Arrests suggest crimes of the past will not be forgotten

Further to this recent post on this blog, the Guatemala Trials website speaks of the arrest of 18 former military officers in relation to crimes committed during Guatemala’s 36-year conflict.

According to Sophie Beaudoin, here, “the dramatic arrests came as the retrial of former head of state Efrain Rios Montt is scheduled to begin on Monday January 11, to be followed on February 1 by the start of a path-breaking sexual violence case (known as Sepur Zarco) also related to the conflict. These developments could portend new momentum for grave crimes trials in Guatemala, but potential political backlash could still delay or derail proceedings”.

What is striking about these arrests is that they come only days before the public swearing in of the new President, Jimmy Morales, who benefited from the open support of, among others, the Military Veterans Association (AVEMILGUA). This was the association that helped to launch a political and media campaign to stop the trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, in 2013, of Efraín Ríos Montt and his then-head of military intelligence Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez. Their campaign, called “The Genocide Sham,” aimed to discredit participants in the trial, including judges, and deny that genocide ever occurred in the country.

Fourteen of those arrested are charged with enforced disappearance, murder, and torture as crimes against humanity in relation to a mass grave found at the former Cobán military base, today used by the UN for peacekeeping training – Comando Regional de Entrenamiento de Operaciones de Mantenimiento dem Paz, or CREOMPAZ.

A piece by Dawn Paley, here, suggests that this base now might better be called the little ‘School of the Americas’.

As for its past, “most of the dead found at CREOMPAZ are believed to be people who disappeared from communities around the country. Men and women kidnapped by the army on their way to the shop to buy some food for their children, people who said goodbye to their families one morning and headed off to school or to work, never to be heard from again”.

Sandra Sebastián did a piece in Plaza Pública, with some fine photos, on the return of the remains of victims of the base and its commanders, to the village of Pambach in Alta Verapaz, which we featured here previously. James Rodríguez also has some fine photos of the burials as well as of the exhumations in the base, here, on MiMundo.

The four remaining former military officers arrested are charged in relation to the 1981 enforced disappearance of 14-year-old Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, who the military disappeared in retaliation for his family’s activism and his sister’s escape from her second incarceration of torture.

In this case, the state recognised its responsibility and these arrests are the first in the case.

These arrests come days before the retrial of Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sanchez on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The retrial is scheduled to begin next week and will proceed under special procedures, including holding the trial behind closed doors. Victims will be able to attend hearings, but no media or observers will be allowed in the courtroom. This is in response to health concerns for Ríos Montt.

The Sepur Zarco trial is scheduled to begin next month and will be the first in which a Guatemalan court considers a case of sexual violence as an international crime, and the first time that a domestic court will hear charges of sexual slavery.

The proceedings are likely to shed new light on the nature of Guatemala’s conflict, and could draw global attention for their relevance to the broader movement for gender justice. You can find more on Sepur Zarcho here.

You can read the full post on Guatemala Trials website here.

Categories: Gender, Genocide, Human Rights, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Presidential Elections, Rios Montt, Violence

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