Women survivors of Sepur Zarco stand and raise their hands in acknowledgement of the guilty verdict and sentence. Photo: EPA (NISGUA)
The 26th February marked an historic day for both Guatemala and the world in the struggle to seek justice for gender-based crimes. Retired Coronel Esteelmer Reyes Girón and former Military Commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asig were convicted of crimes against humanity for the sexual and domestic enslavement of Q’eqchi women in Sepur Zarco during the country’s internal armed conflict, marking the first time Guatemalan courts have successfully prosecuted sexual violence as a crime against humanity.
Reyes Girón was sentenced to a total of 120 years in prison – 90 years for the murder of Dominga Coc and her two daughters and 30 years for crimes against humanity related to sexual and domestic slavery. Valdez Asig was sentenced to 240 years in prison – 210 years for the forced disappearance of 7 men and an additional 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity.
As soon as the verdict was read, the courtroom burst into applause with cries of “Justicia!”, “Justice!”, “Si se pudó!”, “Yes, we could!” and “Sepur Zarco!” Others shouted “Esto apenas empieza,” “This is just the beginning”, a oft-used slogan during the mass citizen protests against impunity last year that saw the fall of former President Otto Pérez Molina on charges of corruption. In shows of cross-movement solidarity, other indigenous women survivors of sexual violence at the hands of the Guatemalan military were present in the courtroom, including many of the Ixil women who testified during the genocide trial against Ríos Montt and named the systematic way the military used sexual violence to target women as those who generate life and transmit culture.
From the testimonies, it is clear that the military targeted the community leaders because they were trying to protect the community lands from predatory landowners. It isn to be hoped that more on this comes out in the subsequent weeks and months.
You can read the full article from NISGUA, here.
In addition, Jo-Marie Burt has been writing from the trial for International Justice Monitor and you can read her moving pieces here.
You can read a distillation of some of these here.
The photograph above shows the moment when women survivors, who sat for 20 days in a courtroom with their heads covered to protect their identities, raised their hands in acknowledgement of the verdict. It comes from the NISGUA article which contains many more photographs.