Guatemala’s Congress Debates Amnesty Bill as Maya Achí Sexual Violence Case Suffers Delays

Today, Guatemala’s Congress is scheduled to hear the second debate of the amnesty bill. The proposed legislation, also known as bill 5377, would free all those convicted of grave crimes committed during the country’s 36-year civil war, as well as those awaiting trial, including six military commissioners accused in the Maya Achí sexual violence case.

The Congress was scheduled to begin debate on the amnesty bill last week, but it was bumped from the legislative agenda and rescheduled for February 20. The bill would also terminate all future investigations into human rights violations committed during the armed conflict, which Guatemalan and international organizations have said violates domestic and international law.

The evidentiary hearings in the Maya Achí case were scheduled to begin on January 29. However, an appellate court ruled in favor of a motion filed by the civil parties that challenged the ruling of the pretrial judge in the case, Claudette Domínguez, which dismissed their earlier request to sue the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGN) as a third civil party in the case.

In response to the appellate court decision, Judge Domínguez ruled against the plaintiff motion to continue the proceedings, instead ruling to suspend the hearing, as requested by the defense attorneys, and ordering that the PGN be notified of the appellate decision. She did not set a date for the next hearing.

This week, the civil parties were notified that the next hearing would not take place until April 22, 2019.

Human rights organizations have questioned Judge Domínguez’s impartiality. For example, she was sharply criticized for her decision in the CREOMPAZ case to dismiss 80 percent of the victims identified by the Attorney General’s Office. This reduced the charges against the eight senior military officials still awaiting trial. (The case has been delayed due to unresolved appeals for more than two years.) The plaintiffs in the Maya Achí case have noted that the military base in Rabinal was under the jurisdiction of Military Zone No. 21 in Cobán, the same base from which 565 human remains were exhumed starting in 2012 and which form the basis of the CREOMPAZ case.

Civil parties in the CREOMPAZ case also criticized Judge Domínguez for lifting a travel ban on then-Congressman Edgar Justino Ovalle, whom the Attorney General’s Office was seeking to investigate for his role in the CREOMPAZ case. Two months later, the Supreme Court of Justice ruled in favor of Ovallle’s impeachment. By then, however, Ovalle, former head of the ruling National Convergence Front (FCN-Nación) and close advisor to President Jimmy Morales, had fled. He remains a fugitive.

If the amnesty bill passes, the charges against Ovalle and the other officials charged in the CREOMPAZ case, as well as the military commissioners charged in the Maya Achí sexual violence case, would be dismissed and they would be freed.

Last week, on February 13, the civil parties in the Maya Achí sexual violence case filed a protective measure (amparo) before the Constitutional Court against bill 5377.

One of the survivors told International Justice Monitor that relatives of the defendants have directed threats against her and the other women who filed the complaint. She said that in 1982, civil defense patrols (PACs) disappeared her mother and father and raped her multiple times when she was 12 years old.

“I can’t leave because they have told us that if they find us in another place, they will leave us there in body bag. They say they are going to finish us off once and for all,” she said. “But we are not going to stop fighting for our rights.”

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.