Molina Theissen Case: Court Orders Creation of a Commission to Search for Disappeared Persons and Other Reparations

In the aftermath of the May 23 guilty verdict against four senior military officials for crimes against humanity, aggravated sexual assault, and enforced disappearance in the Molina Theissen case, High Risk Court “C” convened a reparations hearing on May 28. The Molina Theissen family did not request economic reparations, which they had already received from the State of Guatemala after the 2004 judgement by the Inter-American Court for Human Rights found Guatemala responsible for the enforced disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen.

Former Army Chief of Staff and retired army general Benedicto Lucas Garcia participated via videoconference from the military hospital, as he has for the last several hearings of the proceedings, while the other three military officials convicted in the case, Manuel Callejas y Callejas, Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, and Hugo Zaldaña Rojas, were present in the courtroom. The Molina Theissen family was not present but was represented by their lawyers, Alejandro Rodríguez and Héctor Reyes.

The court heard the plaintiffs’ petitions and defense arguments, as well as expert testimony from Marina García de Villagrán, a social psychologist presented by the plaintiffs. She testified about the importance of integral reparations for the Molina Theissen family. García de Villagrán emphasized, however, that some of the damages, such as the loss of Marco Antonio, are “irreparable,” and in this regard, she urged the court to order the convicted officials to divulge the location of his remains so that they can be returned to the family.

“They know what they did, they know where he is,” she stated. García de Villa also called for the declassification of military archives, as well as medical and psychological treatment for the families of disappeared persons and victims of sexual violence.

After deliberating for two hours, the court issued its decision. The judges affirmed that the state of Guatemala had a duty to guarantee life, liberty, justice and peace, and ordered the state to implement the following reparation measures:

  • Guatemala’s Congress shall approve Law 3590, which calls for the creation of a National Commission on the Search for Disappeared Persons, as well as create a national registry of victims. (The Commission for Historical Clarification determined that during internal armed conflict, the Guatemalan state engaged in a systematic practice of enforced disappearance; in the face of state in action in searching for disappeared persons, in 2006, a coalition of civil society organizations presented Congress with legislative proposal 3590 to established a national commission on the search for disappeared persons. To date the Congress has yet to pass this law.)
  • The Human Rights Ombudsman shall take necessary measures to guarantee the security of the individuals and institutions that participated in the proceedings.
  • The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGN) shall continue with the compliance of the judgment of the Inter-American Court for Human Rights in the case of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, particularly with regards to establishing the whereabouts of Marco Antonio, and shall establish a procedure to declare his absence or presumed death.
  • The Secretariat of Indigenous Affairs shall translate the sentence into the Mayan languages ​​that are predominant in the departments of Quetzaltenango and Guatemala.
  • The Ministry of Education shall include information about the human rights of children in the school curriculum and shall create a scholarship in the name of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen.
  • The San Carlos University shall create a written and audiovisual documentary about the Molina Theissen case.
  • The Ministry of Defense shall create the “Molina Theissen Award” for officers and other members of the army who stand out for their work on human rights and humanitarian issues.
  • The Ministry of the Interior shall establish in its budget a financial reward for individuals who provide reliable information about clandestine cemeteries from the period of the internal armed conflict.
  • President Jimmy Morales shall decree October 6 as the “Day of Disappeared Children.”
  • The Manuel Lisandro Barillas Military Brigade, also known as Military Zone No. 17, where Emma Molina Theissen was detained, tortured, and sexually violated, shall be converted into a museum of memory, and a monument to Emma Molina Theissen shall be erected inside this facility.

The court did not take up some of the plaintiffs’ key petitions. It rejected the request for the convicted military officials to reimburse the state for the $690,400 in reparations to the Molina Theissen family ordered by the Inter-American Court in 2004. The court also rejected the request for memorials to the victims of the conflict to be erected in military bases throughout the country and declined to order that the convicted military officials be dishonorably discharged and stripped of their ranks and awards. Finally, the court refused to order a sports complex in Guatemala City to be renamed after Marco Antonio Molina Theissen.

The court delivered its final, written 1,075-page sentence in the case to the parties on May 30. The sentencing decision can be viewed in Spanish at the website

Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies at George Mason University. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Paulo Estrada is a human rights activist, archaeology student at San Carlos University, and civil party in the Military Diary case.