On Thursday, June 6, evidentiary proceedings in the Maya Achí sexual violence case are scheduled to continue. The proceedings started in late April and were scheduled to continue on May 10. However, the judge suspended the hearing because the lawyer representing three of the defendants resigned.
The case has been marked by delays. The first arrests in the case took place in May 2018, when six men were charged with crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence against 30 Maya Achí women in Rabinal between 1981 and 1985. A seventh individual was arrested one month later. Evidentiary proceedings were scheduled to begin in August 2018 but were postponed until January 2019 by the pretrial judge, Claudette Domínguez of High Risk Court “A.” The proceedings were postponed once again until April.
One of the defendants arrested last year died in custody. One of the fugitives, Francisco Cuxum Alvarado, was detained in the United States on April 30 on charges of immigration fraud.
Some of the accused were military commissioners in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, during the internal armed conflict, while others were members of the civil defense patrols (PACs).
On April 22 and 23, Lucrecia Morales Ruíz of the Attorney General’s Office presented the charges against the six defendants. Morales Ruíz described the specific crimes of which each of the six men stand accused. The plaintiffs were raped collectively and multiple times at the military detachment and sometimes in their own homes, she stated. The alleged crimes were carried out as part of the counterinsurgency strategy promoted throughout Guatemala by the military high command during the internal armed conflict (1960-1996), according to the prosecutor.
The lawyers representing the victims also presented their arguments. Lawyer Lucía Xiloj noted her conformity with the accusation presented by the Attorney General’s Office. She told the court that the evidence will show that the accused were members of the civil defense patrols; that the PACs were under the direct control of the Guatemalan Army; and that each of the defendants have been identified by the survivors as the direct perpetrators of the abuses they endured. In particular, she noted, the survivors identified defendants Felix Tum Ramírez and Pedro Sánchez Cortez as having raped them inside the military detachment, which other witnesses will confirm was commanded by a captain of the Guatemalan army and which was used as a center of torture and sexual violence.
Gloria Elvira Reyes Xitumul, a lawyer with the Association Popular Law Firm of Rabinal, added that the evidence they will present includes official documents outlining the role of the PACs in the military’s counterinsurgency strategy, as well as the chain of command in the military zones in the region. In addition, she said, the evidence will show that what happened to the Maya Achí women was not an isolated event but rather constituted a pattern of military behavior throughout the country during the internal armed conflict.
Virginia Haydeé Valley, who represents several victims in the case, argued that the evidence will show that the accused were part of a paramilitary strategy designed by the army to complement regular army actions. She stated that the evidence will show that the Minister of Defense emitted orders to the PACs. She also noted that the Commission of Historical Clarification (CEH) found that the first violations of human rights by the PACs were documented in 1981, with Rabinal as one of the most affected regions. She stated that the evidence will demonstrate that rape against women was an inherent part of the army’s counterinsurgency strategy. She noted further that there is documentary evidence that the defendants received economic reparations for their participation in the PACs during the internal armed conflict.
Valley noted that the crimes of which the defendants stand accused constitute violations of the international agreements and covenants on human rights to which Guatemala is a signatory. She also said that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has issued three judgements against the State of Guatemala for acts perpetrated by the Guatemalan Army and PAC members against the Maya Achí population: the massacres of Rio Negro, Plan de Sánchez, and Chichupac. In each of these judgments the Court ordered Guatemala to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible, and provide reparations to the victims. In the Chichupac ruling, the Inter-American Court ordered the State of Guatemala to investigate the “genocide” perpetrated against the Maya Achí population.
High Risk Court “A” will hear next the arguments of the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGN), which is a third civil party in the case, and the arguments of the defendants. The defendants are expected to proclaim their innocence.
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.