Jo-Marie Burt and Paolo Estrada write in NACLA about the recently started trial of former members of the Civil Self-Defense Patrols (PAC), for the rape of Indigenous women during the internal armed conflict. The PAC were paramilitary groups created by the Guatemalan military, and filled communities with terror and suspicion.
In 2019, a judge decided not to believe 36 Maya Achi women who accused six men of acts of sexual violence that took place between 1981 and 1985, the height of Guatemala’s bloody 1960-1996 internal armed conflict. The judge dismissed the charges and the men walked free.
The accused—all former members of the Civil Self-Defense Patrols (PAC), paramilitaries created by the Guatemalan army—likely did not imagine that the women survivors would successfully recuse that judge. Nor could they have known that another former PAC member, the brother of one of the six, would soon be deported to Guatemala from the United States to face his own criminal proceedings. After a series of hearings in 2021, a new judge, Miguel Ángel Gálvez, ruled that there was sufficient evidence to send that man and three of those freed in 2019 to trial. He later added a fifth man who had previously been a fugitive.
The incredible tenacity of the Maya Achi women survivors, who began seeking justice more than a decade ago, and the steadfast support of their legal representatives—Indigenous women lawyers Gloria Reyes, Lucía Xiloj, and Haydeé Valey—made it possible for their case to be heard in court today. The presiding judge is Yassmín Barrios, known internationally for her fierce independence and her role in previous high-profile cases, including the 2013 genocide trial against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and the 2016 Sepur Zarco trial, the first to address wartime sexual violence committed by the Guatemalan army.
Now, the Maya Achi sexual violence case is a striking reminder that while the old guard military and their oligarchic allies might be trying to block the sun with one finger—to use a well-known Latin American saying—the light still finds a way to shine through.
You can read the full piece, including links and photos, here, In Guatemala, Ex-Paramilitaries Face Trial for Wartime Rape of Indigenous Women.
Jo-Marie Burt wrote a brief introductory note on WOLA, which was followed by a Background Summary and you can read them here, Landmark Guatemalan Trial for Wartime Sexual Violence against Indigenous Women to Begin January 4th.
Jo-Marie Burt and Estrada are founders and co-directors of Verdad y Justicia en Guatemala, which monitors and reports on war crimes prosecutions in Guatemala. They are on Twitter @VerdadJusticiaG.
International media are taking up the story and you can read more, here on the BBC, Guatemala soldiers face rape trial after 40 years, here on TeleSur, Guatemala: Trial Against Ex-Military Men Accused of Rape Begins, and here on France 24 – Sex abuse trial starts for Guatemalan ex-paramilitaries.