COVID-19 Delays Ruling on Dos Erres Massacre Charges

Yesterday, Judge Claudette Domínguez was scheduled to issue her ruling on whether to indict former Kaibil soldier Gilbert Jordán in the Dos Erres Massacre, or to dismiss the charges against him. The United States deported Jordán earlier this year after he served ten years in prison for immigration fraud and for lying about his role in the massacre. Now back in Guatemala, he faces charges of crimes against humanity and aggravated sexual assault.

The hearing was suspended, however, as Jordán did not appear in court. The judge requested information from prison authorities about Jordán’s failure to appear. 

Prison authorities delivered a report to the court stating that they had suspended the transfer of inmates from all detention centers to the Court Towers since June 1. The decision was taken after an inmate at the Men’s Preventive Detention Center Zone 18 tested positive for COVID-19 and later died. Prison authorities stated that, in response, they have administered several COVID-19 tests to inmates and prison officials. To avoid possible spread of the virus, the authorities said that they will not conduct transfers of inmates until they have the test results. 

Judge Domínguez decided to suspend the hearings. Before doing so, she noted that she would request weekly reports from the Mariscal Zavala prison, where Jordán is detained, to determine when it would be possible to convene a new hearing to deliver her ruling. 

Court Accepts Challenge to Shutter Peace Accord Oversight Body

In other news, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala admitted a protective measure filed by victims of the Guatemalan armed conflict, who are challenging the decision of President Alejandro Giammattei earlier this year to close the Peace Secretariat (SEPAZ). The Court ordered the president to explain his decision within 48 hours, upon which the Court will determine whether to grant the protective measure.

The state of Guatemala created SEPAZ in the context of the 1996 Peace Accords to coordinate the implementation of the accords. SEPAZ is dependent on the presidency, which critics charge has made it vulnerable to changing political winds. In recent years, as noted by the Human Rights Ombudsman, SEPAZ has defunded the different programs under its charge. For example, SEPAZ oversees the National Reparations Program, which has virtually ceased functioning in recent years and also oversaw the Peace Archive, which was shut down in 2012. SEPAZ is also charged with ensuring that the State of Guatemala uphold its international obligations, including the obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish international crimes. The shuttering of SEPAZ would represent a serious setback for the prosecution and punishment of grave crimes trials as well as other transitional justice measures in Guatemala.

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.