International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Judge to Rule on Former Army Chief’s Indictment and New Sexual Assault Charges in Molina Theissen Case

The next hearing in the Molina Theissen case is scheduled for Tuesday, October 25. Judge Víctor Hugo Herrera Ríos will determine whether to charge retired general Benedicto Lucas García with the crimes of forced disappearance, crimes against humanity, and aggravated sexual assault. He will also determine whether to accept the charges of aggravated sexual assault against the other four defendants, who were formally indicted on January 13, 2016 by the Fifth Criminal Court Judge Judith Secaida. The case has since been transferred to High Risk Court “C” and is being heard by Judge Herrera Ríos. (For background on the case, see Grave Crimes Brief: The Molina Theissen Case.)

The new charges against the original four defendants — retired military officials Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas, Edilberto Letona Linares, Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, and Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas — focus on the sexual violation and aggravated sexual assault of Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen during the time of her illegal detention at the Military Zone 17 (MZ17) in Quetzaltenango. The four original defendants in the Molina Theissen case were arrested on January 6, 2016 and eight days later, formally charged with enforced disappearance and crimes against humanity against 14-year-old Marco Antonio Molina Theissen and for crimes against humanity for the physical and sexual violence committed against Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen during her detention in Military Zone No. 17 in Quetzaltengango between September 27 and October 6, 1981.

The Attorney General’s Office brought new charges against Lucas García in the Molina Theissen case in August, and he responded to those charges over the course of several recent hearings. The charges against Lucas García, who was head of the High Command of the Guatemalan Army (Estado Mayor del Ejército) between August 15, 1981 and March 22, 1982, emphasize his role as the person who designed the military’s counterinsurgency strategy. This strategy allegedly included illegal detention of suspected detainees, as well as enforced disappearance, torture, and sexual violence, especially against female detainees. Lucas García will also face trial, along with seven other military officers, in the CREOMPAZ case. He has been in pretrial detention since his arrest on January 6 of this year.

Judge Herrera Ríos will also rule on the role of the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGN) in the Molina Theissen case. The PGN is part of the executive and mandated to represent the interests of Guatemala. It is separate from the autonomous Attorney General’s Office, which brought the case. The plaintiffs requested the PGN’s participation in the case to ensure that the Guatemalan state is party to the case. This means the state of Guatemala is required to respond for the actions of public officials acting on its behalf, so that the state, and not just the accused individuals, can be held liable in the proceedings.

The PGN representative, who has sought to withdraw from the proceedings, has criticized the Attorney General’s Office, stating that it should be protecting the interests of the state, and has referred to the proceedings as a “politically motivated trial.” The PGN representative asserted that the plaintiffs are motivated by financial concerns, criticized the Attorney General’s Office for only investigating the army and not guerrilla organizations, and argued that the army acted in defense of national sovereignty.

On April 26, 2004, the Guatemalan state recognized its responsibility in the enforced disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen before the Inter-American Court for Human Rights. The court found the Guatemalan state culpable and ordered it to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible. It also ordered the state to search for the remains of the victim. To date Marco Antonio remains missing.

Jo-Marie Burt is an associate professor of political science and director of Latin American Studies at George Mason University. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Paulo Estrada contributed to the research and writing of this report.

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