Guatemalan Judge under Threat after Ordering Trial in 1980s “Death Squad Dossier” Case

Jo-Marie Burt and Paulo Estrada have written a powerful piece in El Faro on the ‘Death Squad Diary’ case (Diario Militar) moving through the Guatemala justice system. It also talks of the bravery of the families of the victims and of the presiding judge, Miguel Ángel Gálvez.

On Friday, May 6, 2022, Guatemalan judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez ordered nine retired military and police officials to trial on charges including the illegal detention, torture, killing and forced disappearance of more than 195 people between 1983 and 1985, during the military regime of Óscar Humberto Mejía Víctores.

These crimes are recorded in a military intelligence document that was leaked and made public in 1999, known as the Diaro Militar, or “Death Squad Dossier.” The National Security Archive, the organization that made the document public, called it “a chilling artifact of the techniques of political terror used by Mejía Víctores during that era.”

The military logbook records the abduction, secret detention, and deaths of scores of people. In several cases, it contains a coded reference to their executions. To date, eight of the victims listed in the Military Diary have been located and identified by the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG), thanks to DNA testing and information in the military logbook. 

Six were located in a single mass grave during exhumations conducted inside the Comalapa military detachment between 2003 and 2005. Their names and photographs are recorded in the Military Diary, along with the same notation, ’29-03-84=300,’ indicating the date (March 29, 1984) of their execution (the military used “300” as code to indicate execution). They were identified in 2011 and 2012. FAFG located the other two victims during its exhumation of ossuaries containing thousands of unidentified corpses at La Verbena cemetery, in Guatemala City, in 2011 and identified them in 2015 and 2016.

In addition to the logbook itself, Judge Gálvez had to consider some 8,000 pieces of evidence presented by the plaintiffs, including victim testimony, official military documents, and declassified U.S. government records. Prosecutors also said they would present documents seized from the home of one of the defendants when he was arrested on May 27, 2021.

Families of the victims expressed their satisfaction over the judge’s ruling. “I’m very content to see this day finally arrive,” said Aura Elena Farfán, co-founder of the Association of Families of the Disappeared Persons (FAMDEGUA), a civil party to the case. “Day after day, for 38 years, we have been marching and demanding justice.” She said that she hopes that the court delivers “an exemplary verdict” to dignify the memory of the victims.


When asked whether this is a good time to pursue their case, the families in the Military Diary case responded unequivocally. One of them summed it up this way: “There is never a good time to pursue justice in Guatemala. We have come this far, and we are going to continue until we see justice done.”

You can read the full piece, with links and photos, here, Guatemalan Judge under Threat after Ordering Trial in 1980s “Death Squad Dossier” Case.

There is a version, in Spanish, with more details and photos on the Agencia Ocote website which you can read here, Caso Ciario Militar: La Inteligencia Militar Va A Juicio.

Categories: Accompaniment, Corruption, Criminalisation, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Impunity, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Military, Resource Extraction, Solidarity in Action, Violence

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