Court to Determine if Maya Achí Sexual Violence Case Goes to Trial

This Friday Judge Claudette Domínguez of High Risk Court “A” will determine whether the six defendants in the Maya Achí sexual violence case go to trial.

Seven former civil patrolmen were arrested in May 2018 on charges of crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence against at least 30 Maya Achí women in Rabinal between 1981 and 1985. However, evidentiary hearings did not start until April 2019.

One of the seven defendants died while in custody. A former civil patrolman who was a fugitive in the case, Francisco Cuxum Alvarado, was detained in the United States on April 30 on charges of immigration fraud. Two men wanted in the case remain at large.  

The plaintiffs presented their case in April and early June. In hearings held on June 13, the representative of the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGN), which is separate from the Attorney General’s Office and acts as a third civil party in the case, delivered its statement, as did the defense lawyers.

Defense Arguments

PGN representative Zoé Denomí Paiz González filed a motion asking the judge to remove the PGN from the case. She told the court that the state of Guatemala bears no responsibility for the alleged attacks as none of the accused had connections with the army or were state employees. Paiz González based this statement on a consultation with the Ministry of Defense, which confirmed that none of the defendants were on the Guatemalan army’s payroll. She reminded Judge Domínguez that it is within the judge’s power to declare that the case lacks merit or to dismiss the charges.

The defense lawyers called upon the court to grant the motion presented by Paiz González. The plaintiffs, on the contrary, called on the judge to dismiss the motion, arguing that the evidence presented, including official army documents, clearly shows that the Guatemalan army created and directly controlled the civil defense patrols (PACs), and that the PACS were an integral part of the army’s counterinsurgency strategy.

The defense lawyers then presented their statements, asserting the innocence of their clients and rejecting the charges as baseless and contradictory.

Public defender Raysa Rodríguez, who represents five of the accused—Bernardo Ruiz Aquino, Benvenuto Ruiz Aquino, Pedro Sánchez Cortez, Félix Tum Ramírez, and Simeon Enríquez Gómez—said that the accusation is full of factual errors and that the survivor testimonies are contradictory. She questioned the veracity of the documents that the plaintiffs claim prove that her clients were members of the PACs. Rodríguez further asked the judge to investigate if the victims in this case had received monetary reparations. She concluded by stating that “everyone” in Guatemala, not only the victims in the present case, had suffered during the internal armed conflict, and she called upon the judge to dismiss the charges against her clients.

Next, Julio César Colindres, in representation of the defendant Damian Cuxum Alvarado, began by stating, “There are ulterior motives behind the accusation presented by the Attorney General’s Office.” He also argued that the accusation is full of errors and inconsistencies and denied that the evidence bears out the charges outlined by prosecutors. He called on the judge to dismiss the charges against his client.

Civil Defense Patrols in the Guatemalan Counterinsurgency

In the late 1970s the Guatemalan army began appointing local military commissioners to organize and control the PACs, and the patrols became a central element of Guatemala’s counterinsurgency strategy. In rural areas, all men between the ages of 15 and 60 were forced to participate in the PACs, and by 1984, there were more than 900,000 members of the civil patrol system. The Recovery of Historical Memory Project at the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala found that military commissioners and PAC members were identified as perpetrators in one out of every four massacres.

According to the Historical Clarification Commission, the first PACs were identified in April 1981 in Uspantán, El Quiché. By the end of that year, PACs were identified in Rabinal and Baja Verapaz, and the first human rights violations involving PACs were reported that same year.

The document titled Plan Victoria 82 describes the military’s counterinsurgency campaign against the indigenous communities it perceived to be the social base of the guerrilla movement. It reveals that the PACs’ activities were coordinated with the army as part of the counterinsurgency strategy, and that the PACs were under the military chain of command.

The Governmental Agreement 22-83, issued in April 1983, regulated the PACs and recognized their participation in the army’s chain of command by putting them under the control of an army official. During this time, the PACs participated directly in the creation of black lists that included the names and locations of individuals who were later captured, interrogated, tortured, and executed. The commission concluded that the PACs participated in 18 percent of all violations attributed to the Guatemalan state, and that Rabinal was the municipality most affected by state violence.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) addressed the role of the PACs and their institutional relationship with the Guatemalan army in the 1998 case of Nicholas Chapman Blake vs. Guatemala. The court found that PACs were assisted and coordinated by Guatemala’s Ministry of National Defense. It also found that PACs received funds, weapons, training, and direct orders from the army regarding their actions and operated under its supervision.

In its ruling, the IACtHR specified that, “[C]ontrary to Guatemala’s claims, the civil patrols in fact acted as agents of the State during the period in which the acts pertaining to the instant case occurred…. That view was confirmed by a mass of information and documentation available from various bodies, including international human rights oversight organs.”

On Friday, June 21 at 2:30 p.m., Judge Domínguez will deliver her ruling on whether the accused will face trial.

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.

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