Genocide Evidentiary Hearings Commence, Prosecution Outlines Charges Against Senior Military Officials

Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez has rejected a defense motion seeking his removal from the Maya Ixil genocide case. This happened on Tuesday in High Risk Court “B,” where the evidentiary phase of the case has just begun.

Last November, Judge Gálvez, who presides over High Risk Court “B,” charged three senior military commanders with genocide, crimes against humanity, and forced disappearance against the Maya Ixil population. The alleged crimes occurred during the government of Romeo Lucas García government (1978-1982), under which prosecutors allege the Guatemalan army first designed and implemented a policy of genocide.

On Monday, the opening of the evidentiary phase, the defense challenged Judge Gálvez’s jurisdiction over the case, arguing that the alleged crimes occurred in 1981 and 1982, before the creation of the High Risk Court system. Mynor Melgar, representative of the victims, stated that the motion had no basis in law and characterized it as a delay tactic.

Judge Gálvez dismissed the defense motion, noting that arguments about retroactivity might pertain to substantive matters, but not procedural ones, reaffirming the right of the High Risk Court to try this and similar cases.

With that issue resolved, the judge declared the start of the evidentiary phase hearings. For the remainder of the day, the Attorney General’s Office proceeded to formally present charges against the three retired senior military officials.

The Prosecution Presents its Charges

Prosecutor Blanca Castañeda first presented the charges against retired General Manuel Callejas y Callejas, former chief of military intelligence (G2), who held that position from July 1, 1978 until March 22, 1982 (Romeo Lucas was overthrown March 23, 1982 in a military coup directed by Efraín Ríos Montt). According to the prosecution, Callejas y Callejas, as the Chief of Military Intelligence, is responsible for crimes against humanity against the civilian population of Santa María Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal, and San Gaspar Chajul, the municipalities in the department of El Quiche that came to be known as the “Ixil Region.” He is also accused of committing the crime of genocide against the Mayan Ixil ethnic group and the forced disappearance of at least 94 people.

Castañeda then presented the charges against retired General Benedicto Lucas García, who was chief of the General Staff of the Guatemalan Army between August 16, 1981 and March 22, 1982. The prosecution accused Lucas García, as the Chief of the General Staff of the Guatemalan Army, of responsibility for crimes against humanity, genocide, and the forced disappearance of at least 75 people. 

Next, the prosecution presented the charges against retired Colonel César Octavio Noguera Argueta, Chief of Military Operations (G3) between January 1, 1982 and March 23, 1982. Castañeda did not finalize the presentation, which continued on Wednesday. The prosecution accused Noguera Argueta, as Chief of Military Operations, of the crimes of genocide against the Maya Ixil population and the forced disappearance of 75 people.

According to prosecutors, the accused officials are responsible for planning and carrying out the Guatemalan army’s counter-insurgency strategy in the Ixil region, after having determined that the Maya Ixil ethnic group were sympathetic to or direct supporters of the guerrillas and defining them as the “internal enemy.” Prosecutors allege that based on this determination, the officials designed, implemented, and oversaw a counter-insurgency strategy that resulted in massacres and other grave crimes against the Maya Ixil population, which were designed to partly eliminate them. 

Based on their functional roles in the Guatemalan army, the prosecution argued that the officials had knowledge of the illegal acts being committed through the directives and operations orders of the commands under their control and the periodic intelligence reports sent from the field to the Joint Operations Center. Therefore, according to the prosecution, they had control over the activities of their subordinates at all times. The prosecution noted that at any time the defendants could have stopped these illegal acts, but they chose not to do so.

After the prosecution finalizes its presentation of charges, the civil parties will present their arguments, followed by the defense. 

Guatemalan courts have twice determined that the Guatemalan army carried out a state policy of genocide during the successor government to Lucas García, led by Efraín Ríos Montt.

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.