before the National Courts of Guatemala
These grave crimes trials in the domestic courts of Guatemala represent a milestone for accountability in a country known for the impunity of its senior leaders in the aftermath of a 36-year civil war.
The Trial of Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez (available here)
1. SEPUR ZARCO SEXUAL VIOLENCE CASE
Guatemala’s Sepur Zarco case is the first known example of the prosecution in a national court of the crime of sexual slavery during armed conflict as a violation of international humanitarian law.
In 1982, Guatemala’s armed forces repeatedly attacked the small village of Sepur Zarco, in the east of the country, capturing and killing or disappearing male Q’eqchí campesino leaders in Izabal who had sought land title from the state. Prosecutors allege that for the six months after the disappearances and executions of male community leaders in August 1982, soldiers raped many of the wives of the disappeared or kidnapped men, often in front of children, and subjected them systematically to sexual and “domestic” slavery.
The women were required to report every third day for “shifts” during which time they were raped, sexually abused, and forced to cook and clean for the soldiers. After this initial period, soldiers reportedly continued to rape the women when they went to fetch water and forced them to work at the military installation, some for as long as six years until the closure of the military installation in 1988.
In one case, a local woman, Dominga Coc, came to Sepur Zarco with her young daughters, aged four and one, searching for her husband who had been captured by the military. Dominga was then reportedly held captive for four months, during which time she was repeatedly raped in front of her husband and daughters, often by many soldiers. She and her daughters then disappeared; Dominga’s bones and the remnants of children’s underwear were found during a 2001 exhumation beside a nearby river.
Col. Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Girón, the commander of the Sepur Zarco base between its inauguration in 1982 and 1984, is charged with multiple acts in violation of international humanitarian law, including rape, sexual slavery, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against at least 11 Maya Q’eqchi’ women. He is also charged with murder. (Col. Reyes denies he was the Sepur Zarco commander, and the military asserts that it has no records of personnel at the military installations during this period.)
Heriberto Valdez Asij (“El Canche”), a former military commissioner who purportedly commanded the civil patrols (patrullas de autodefensa civil) in Panzós from April 1982, is charged with the enforced disappearance on April 25 and August 25, 1982 of seven farmers seeking land title. (Only seven of the 19 men believed subjected to enforced disappearance have been identified—Antonio Sub Coc on April 25; and 18 others on August 25, including Manuel Cac and his two sons Santiago Cac Ba and Pedro Cac Ba, Abelardo Coc, Heriberto Choc Tzi and Juan Choc.) Valdéz denies many of the central facts, including being present and serving as a military commissioner.
This case follows various initiatives in which survivors of sexual violence broke their silence. In March 2010, in Guatemala’s First Court of Conscience on Sexual Violence Against Women during the Internal Armed Conflict, nine indigenous women testified publicly. In September 2011, prosecutors initiated the Sepur Zarco case in Izabal, before seeking its 2012 transfer to a high-risk court in the capital. In September 2012, for the first time, indigenous women testified before a domestic court of sexual violence suffered during the conflict. In the high-profile 2013 Rios Montt genocide trial, women testified again to rape and sexual violence and, in a now-annulled judgment, the court recognized the rape and sexual violence as part of the basis for a conviction of genocide and crimes against humanity.
On June 14, 2014, Col. Reyes was arrested for crimes in connection with his time at Sepur Zarco. He and Valdez have been in preventive detention since their capture. The Sepur Zarco case was approved for trial on October 14, 2014. The trial opened on February 1, 2016.
On February 26, 2016, High Risk Tribunal “A” convicted Col. Reyes and Valdez of crimes against humanity for murder, sexual slavery, and other atrocities committed at the Sepur Zarco army base in 1982 and 1983. Col. Reyes was given prison sentences totaling 120 years. Valdez was given sentences totaling 240 years.
2. CASE OF THE SPANISH EMBASSY FIRE
In 1980, indigenous campesinos and student protesters occupied the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala, seeking to draw attention to their plight. Guatemalan state security forces quickly laid siege to the occupied embassy in an overwhelming attack that afforded no special protections to the status of the diplomatic mission, and ignored the pleas of the Spanish government to retreat.
The ensuing fire killed 37 people. Among those killed were the father of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Rigoberta Menchú, two former senior Guatemalan ministers, and embassy staff. There were only two survivors—the Spanish Ambassador and a protester who was tortured and executed soon after. Two additional civilians were shot to death during the subsequent funeral march, while the killings led to a three year break in diplomatic relations between Guatemala and Spain.
In this trial, which opened on October 1, 2014 and ended on January 19, 2015, prosecutors charged Pedro García Arredondo, former chief of the now-defunct National Police Special Investigations Unit, with murder, attempted murder and crimes against humanity over the embassy killings. Arredondo was already serving a 70 year prison sentence, handed down in 2012, for the 1980 torture and execution of university student Edgar Sans Calito.
The events at the center of the case began on the morning of January 31, 1980, 27 indigenous and student protesters occupied the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala to protest the actions of Guatemalan security forces in the country’s northern highlands during the brutal dictatorship of Fernando Romeo Lucas García.
The occupiers took embassy staff and visitors captive, including the ambassador Maximo Cajal y López and visiting officials—among them former vice-president Eduardo Cáceres Lehnhoff and former Foreign Minister Adolfo Molina Orantes. Hundreds of heavily armed state forces, commanded by the now-defunct National Police, soon surrounded the building, cutting communication, electricity, and access to water for those inside.
The police eventually forced their way into the embassy building—breaking out the windows and blowing a hole in the roof of the building. The protesters then barricaded themselves and their hostages in the ambassador’s office, which subsequently caught fire in circumstances that remain disputed. The fire killed 37 people — 22 campesinos, five students, eight diplomats, and the two visiting dignitaries.
Only two people survived the siege—Ambassador Cajal, and Gregorio Yujá Xoná, a campesino protester, who was found by the Red Cross, badly burned and barely alive under a pile of dead bodies. Guatemalan lawyer Mario Aguirre Godoy escaped early into the occupation before the fire started.
Both Ambassador Cajal and Yujá Xoná were transferred to a private hospital at the insistence of the Red Cross. The morning after the two survivors arrived in the hospital, armed forces kidnapped Yujá Xoná from the hospital.
Two days later, Yujá Xoná’s tortured corpse was dumped outside the national university with a placard around his neck—“brought to justice for being a terrorist”—and a warning that “the Spanish Ambassador runs the same risk.” At the time, the Guatemalan government implicated the Spanish Ambassador in the occupation.
Other ambassadors then launched a secret operation to move the Spanish ambassador to the US embassy while he recovered from his injuries. The US embassy was shot at with a machine gun while Cajal was sequestered inside. Cajal was subsequently flown secretly from Guatemala to Madrid.
During a collective funeral on February 2 for most of those killed at the embassy, more than two thousand mourners marched in a procession, under high surveillance by heavily armed security forces. At the funeral, two student leaders were shot to death—Gustavo Adolfo Hernández and Jesús España.
In 1998, after the end of the conflict, the Guatemalan Congress singled out the embassy killings as in need of an investigation by the truth commission—the only case in which it did so. The Historical Clarification Commission concluded in 1999 that “agents of the state … were materially responsible for the arbitrary execution of those who were inside the Spanish Embassy, and the highest authorities were the intellectual authors of this extremely grave violation of human rights.”
The case was first investigated by Guatemalan prosecutors in 1980. While the quality of their investigation was poor, and did not include autopsies, they did gather forensic evidence from the bodies, as well as victim and eyewitness statements, including a statement of the Spanish ambassador and Mario Aguirre Godoy, who escaped the embassy before the fire started.
For the more than twenty years that followed, the Public Prosecutor´s office showed no interest in prosecuting the case before the Guatemalan courts.
In the trial of Pedro García Arredondo, the defendant faced three indictments: the murder of the 37 who died in the embassy fire, as also identified as a crime against humanity (delitos contra los deberes de humanidad, Article 378 of the Guatemalan Criminal Code, which codifies international humanitarian law obligations); the assassination of two students from the University of San Carlos on February 2 during the collective funeral; and the attempted murder of the two survivors of the embassy fire—Máximo Cajal, then Spanish Ambassador, and Gregorio Yujá Xoná (not his disappearance and subsequent murder).
Among other things, the indictment alleges that the defendant cut communication lines with the embassy, prevented means of peaceful negotiation, illegally ordered the storming of the embassy despite its protected status, and prevented occupants of the embassy from fleeing when the embassy was in flames. The indictment alleges that the occupants were viewed as the internal enemy and, despite being members of the civilian population, were subjected to inhumane acts.
On January 19, 2015, Pedro García Arredondo was sentenced to 40 years in jail for murder and crimes against humanity in connection with the embassy siege.
He was given another 50 years for the killing of two students at the funeral of the victims of the embassy siege, Gustavo Adolfo Hernández and Jesús España.
3. THE MOLINA THEISSEN CASE
The Guatemalan state officially acknowledged responsibility for grave crimes against members of the Molina Theissen family in 2000. Criminal charges against five former military officers, including two previously thought to be untouchable, began some 36 years after the underlying events.
The prosecution case relates to events that took place between September 26 and October 6, 1981. During this time, the Guatemalan army was implementing a counterinsurgency strategy based on the Doctrine of National Security. According to prosecutors, under this doctrine, the army considered Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen to be an “internal enemy,” and someone with information of value to military intelligence. She was a militant of the Patriotic Worker Youth (Juventud Patriótica del Trabajo).
Prosecutors allege that the army illegally detained Emma Molina Theissen at a military checkpoint on September 27, 1981 and brought her to Military Zone No. 17, where she was interrogated, sexually assaulted, and tortured. Prosecutors say that the accused knowingly permitted soldiers under the influence of alcohol to enter the room where Emma Gaudalupe was being detained and shackled, where they used physical and psychological violence to sexually violate her outside of interrogation sessions. They also allegedly permitted soldiers to use physical and psychological violence to sexually violate her during interrogation sessions. She escaped from the base nine days after her detention. The day following her escape, October 6, armed men raided her home. Not finding her there, they beat her mother and abducted her 14-year-old brother, Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, who has not been seen since.
On January 6, 2016, acting on orders from the Attorney General’s Office, police arrested 18 former senior military officers in relation to the Molina Theissen and CREOMPAZ grave crimes cases. This was the largest simultaneous set of arrests targeting officials linked to alleged wartime crimes.
The five accused in the case are:
Benedicto Lucas García, former Brigadier General and head of the High Command of the Guatemalan Army. Prosecutors argue that Benedicto Lucas García directed, coordinated, and oversaw the work of the High Command and was in charge of the design and conduct of military strategy in the counterinsurgency war. Lucas García is charged with crimes against humanity and aggravated sexual assault perpetrated against Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen, and with offenses related to the enforced disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen.
Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas, former infantry colonel who served as director of intelligence (G-2) of the High Command of the Guatemalan Army at the time of the events. Prosecutors say that Callejas y Callejas helped to implement the counterinsurgency strategy developed by the Guatemalan army during the internal armed conflict. The Attorney General’s Office charged Callejas y Callejas, as director of military intelligence, with crimes against humanity and aggravated sexual assault for permitting the existence of clandestine detention centers within some military zones, where detainees were interrogated using torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, as well as sexual violence primarily against women. He is also charged with not taking the necessary actions to stop grave violations against non-combatant civilians. Callejas y Callejas allegedly supervised the military intelligence operation to recapture Emma Guadalupe and is accused of the crime of enforced disappearance in relation to the abduction of Marco Antonio.
Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez was commander of Military Zone No. 17 at the time of the events. Based on his functional duties as commander, the Attorney General’s Office charged Gordillo Martínez with crimes against humanity and aggravated sexual assault for allegedly failing to act to stop the crimes against Emma Guadalupe, to punish the officers involved, and omitting to fulfill his duty as guarantor of rights under Guatemalan law.
Edilberto Letona Linares served as Deputy Commander of Military Zone No. 17 at the time of the events, and the charges state that he was functionally responsible for all actions at the military base when the Commander, Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, was absent. He therefore faces charges of crimes against humanity and aggravated sexual assault for allegedly failing to take necessary actions to stop the perpetration of crimes against Emma Guadalupe and to punish the officers involved.
Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas served as a military officer and intelligence official (S-2) in Military Zone No. 17 at the time of the events, and allegedly had direct control over Emma Guadalupe during the period of her detention. Prosecutors charged him with crimes against humanity for allegedly having directed, supervised, and controlled her interrogation, and of therefore being criminally responsible for the crimes committed against her, including aggravated sexual assault. Prosecutors also charged Zaldaña Rojas with the crime of enforced disappearance for allegedly commanding the operation to recapture Emma Guadalupe, which resulted in abduction of Marco Antonio.
In pre-trial hearings held between March 2016 and July 2017, Judge Víctor Herrera Ríos heard arguments from prosecutors, civil parties, and the defense, and ruled that there was sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. He then ruled on the admissibility of evidence to be heard at trial. The defense cases rest on a mix of claims, including contesting facts alleged by the prosecutor, and some accused denying that their positions gave them authority over the events in question.
The Molina Theissen trial began on March 1, 2018.
4. Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez Case
Background information on the 2013 trial of Jose Efrain Rios Montt and Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez is available here.
Sepur Zarco Sexual Violence Case
The Case of the Spanish Embassy Fire
The Molina Theissan Case
The Trial of Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez (available here)
1. SEPUR ZARCO SEXUAL VIOLENCE CASE
Lt. Col. Esteelmer Reyes Girón
Esteelmer Reyes Girón purportedly oversaw the Sepur Zarco military installation. His military records record his assignment as Commander of the General Miguel García Granados Military Base in Puerto Barrios, Izabal from July 1982 to October 1984. He remained in the army until June 30, 2004, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel for Artillery. (He denies he had this role, and the military asserts that it has no records of personnel at the military installations during this period.) According to the Sepur Zarco indictment, at Sepur Zarco, Reyes oversaw 50 soldiers at a “recreation” site for ten local military installations and two military zones (No. 21 Antonio José Irisarri; and No. 6 Miguel García Granados). He was eventually transferred out in October 1984. On June 14, 2014, Reyes was captured for crimes in connection with his time at Sepur Zarco. He faces charges of crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence, sexual slavery and domestic slavery against 11 indigenous women; the murder of Dominga Coc; and inhumane treatment for the deaths of the two children of Dominga Coc. He has been in preventive detention since his capture.
Heriberto Valdéz Asig
Heriberto Valdéz Asig is purportedly a former senior military commissioner, known as “El Canche,” who commanded the civil patrols (patrullas de autodefensa civil) in Panzós from April 1982. Military commissioners were paramilitary groups in Guatemala which, according to the REMHI report, the Archbishop’s truth commission report, responded to the army command and “were often responsible for organizing the civil patrols and supervising their activities,” and later, “maintain[ing] military control in communities.” The indictment asserts that, as a military commissioner, Valdéz was part of the army structure, “in hierarchical dependency of the Commander of the Military Reserves” of the CAJDI Military Zone No. 21. (Valdéz denies many of the central facts, including being present and serving as a military commissioner.) According to the indictment, Valdéz was stationed around Sepur Zarco military base from April 1982.
Before serving as a military commissioner, Valdéz was a municipal police officer in Panzós under Flavio Monzón, a large local landowner and former mayor implicated in land theft from indigenous communities during this time. He lived in Panzós until his arrest on June 14, 2014. He now faces charges in connection with his time at and around Sepur Zarco. Valdéz has been in preventive detention since his capture.
- For Col. Reyes: Moisés Galindo (see below) and Ismael García
- For Valdéz: Fidencia Orozco
- Women Transforming the World (Mujeres Transformando El Mundo, or MTM): MTM is a Guatemalan NGO focused on, among other things, sexual violence during the internal armed conflict, and seeking redress for victims of past and contemporary human rights violations in the past and present. Three civil parties represent the Sepur Zarco victims—Women Transforming the World (Mujeres Transformando El Mundo MTM), National Union of Guatemalan Women (Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas, UNAMG) and JALOK U. Jennifer Bravo represents MTM. She has litigated cases related to sexual violence.
- National Union of Guatemalan Women (Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas, UNAMG): UNAMG is an organization which seeks to build organizational capacity for organizations of local women in Guatemala and empower women suffering from violence. Three civil parties represent the Sepur Zarco victims—Women Transforming the World (Mujeres Transformando El Mundo MTM), National Union of Guatemalan Women (Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas, UNAMG) and JALOK U. Gabriela Rivera represents UNAMG in the Sepur Zarco case.
- Colectiva JALOK U: Jalok U is a local organization established in May 2014, prior to the presentation of the Sepur Zarco indictment, by Demecia Yat, a Sepur Zarco survivor named in the indictment. The organization is composed of the victims. Ligia Ovando represents Jalok U.
2. THE CASE OF THE SPANISH EMBASSY FIRE
Lt. Col. Pedro García Arredondo, defendant, was the former chief of the now-defunct National Police Special Investigations Unit, known as Command 6, from August 1978 until August 21, 1980. In August 1980, Arredondo was promoted to head of the detectives corps, but was ousted from his post following the 1982 coup d’etat by Efraín Ríos Montt. In 2012, Arredondo was sentenced to 70 years in prison for the torture and execution of university student Edgar Saenz Calito that took place on September 11, 1980; he remains imprisoned.
Lawyers for the Defendant:
- Moisés Galindo is the attorney for Pedro García Arredondo. He served as chief of the Ministry of Defense budgetary unit during the government of Alfonso Portillo. Following his departure from public office, Galindo has served as defense counsel for various military officers and soldiers, including Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez in the 2013 genocide trial; and Juan Francisco Escobar Blass after he was indicted as an accomplice in the killing of Archbishop Monseñor Juan José Gerardi in 1998. Galindo is currently the lawyer of Byron Lima Oliva, who was convicted to 20 years incarceration for his role in the murder of Archbishop Gerardi; Lima was indicted in 2014 on charges related to running a money laundering ring during his incarceration. Galindo is a prominent member of the Foundation Against Terrorism, run by Ricardo Mendez Ruiz, the son of Ríos Montt’s interior minister.
- Manuel de Jesus Ixmay García is a former military officer who obtained his law license in 2013.
- Sheila Elizabeth García Mora is the state-appointed defense attorney registered in the indictment presented by the prosecution against Pedro García Arredondo.
The Human Rights Prosecution Unit in the Public Ministry is responsible for the case. That unit is headed by Orlando López, who was the lead prosecutor in the 2013 genocide trial of Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez. Hilda Pineda oversees the sub-division dedicated to investigating and prosecuting cases of the internal armed conflict, and is the chief prosecutor in the case.
Civil Parties (Querellantes):
- Rigoberta Menchú is an indigenous Guatemalan of the Quiché-Maya ethnic group and a civil party in the case. She is a leader internationally known for her work on the promotion and defense of human rights and the rights of indigenous people. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, becoming the first indigenous and, at the time, the youngest person ever to receive the award. Menchú’s father Vicente Menchú was one of the victims who died in the fire.
- Sergio Vi, a civil party in this case, is the son of Gaspar Vi Vi, one of the victims of the Spanish Embassy fire. He is a human rights activist and has been very active accompanying victims in their demands of justice in cases related with transitional justice and also indigenous rights.
Lawyers for the Civil Parties:
- Edgar Pérez is the founder and director of the Guatemalan Human Rights Law Firm (Bufete de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala, BDHG) and represents Rigoberta Menchu as civil party in this case. Pérez was one of the first independent lawyers who started litigating complex cases related to transitional justice in Guatemala. His law firm has been nationally and internationally recognized for advancing emblematic cases before the justice system in Guatemala and the Inter-American System.
- Lucia Xilox is a human rights lawyer representing Sergio Vi.
- Francisco Vivar is a human rights lawyer representing Sergio Vi. He has worked with the Guatemalan Human Rights Law Firm (Bufete de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala, BDHG). He was one of the lawyers representing the civil parties in the genocide trial against Efraín Ríos Montt and José Maurício Rodríguez Sanchez.
High Risk Tribunal (El Tribunal Primero de Alto Riesgo):
The Guatemalan high-risk court system was established in 2012 to try complex criminal cases. There are two chambers – A and B. This case is tried by the B chamber, before three judges. Irma Jeannette Valdez is the presiding judge, accompanied by Maria Eugenia Castellanos and Sara Griselda Yoc Yoc. This is the same tribunal assigned to continue the genocide trial of Rios Montt set to begin January 5, 2015.
Miguel Ángel Galvez is the investigative judge of the High Risk Court “B” in Guatemala City responsible for overseeing the preliminary investigative stage of the trial.
- K’iche’ campesinos (22): Mateo Sis, Víctor Gómez Zacarías, Juan Chic Hernández, Mateo López Calvo, Juan José Yos, Maria Ramírez Anai, Regina Pol Cuy, Francisco Chen, Salomón Tavico, Vicente Menchú, María Pinula Lux, Juan Us Chic, Francisco Tun, Trinidad Gómez Hernández, José Ángel Xoná, Gabino Mario Chupé, Juan Tomás Lux, Mateo Sic Chen, Juan López Yac, Gaspar Vi Vi, Felipe Antonio García, María Ramírez Zanai.
- University of San Carlos students (5): Sonia Magalí Welches Valdéz, Luis Antonio Ramírez Paz, Leopoldo Pineda Pedroza, Edgar Rodolfo Negreros, Blanca Lidia Domínguez Girón.
- Diplomatic staff members (9): Jaime Ruíz del Árbol: Spanish consul, Luis Felipe Sanz (Sp), María Teresa Vázquez (Sp), Jaime Ruíz del Arbol Soler, Mary Wilken Molina, María Lucrecia Rivas Fernández de Anleu, Miriam Judith Rodríguez Urrutia, Nora Adela Mena Aceituno, María Cristina Melgar Espinoza.
- Visiting Officials (2): Eduardo Cáceres Lehnhoff: former vice president of Guatemala and member of Instituto Guatemalteco de Cultura Hispánica and Adolfo Molina Orantes, former Foreign Minister and then a judge on the International Court of Justice.
- Survivors of the fire (3): Maximo Cajal y López former Spanish Ambassador to Guatemala (died April 3, 2014). Gregorio Yujá Xoná, indigenous campesino protester who was found by the Red Cross, badly burned and barely alive under a pile of dead bodies; and was later kidnapped from the hospital where he was taken to recover and, on February 2, 1980, thrown lifeless in front of the main building of the University of San Carlos de Guatemala with signs of torture. Mario Aguirre Godoy, distinguished Guatemalan lawyer who escaped early into the occupation before the fire started.
Students shot to death at funeral:
- Gustavo Adolfo Hernández
- Jesús España
Romeo Lucas García, president at the time of the Embassy fire and alleged in the indictment to have directed the embassy siege, along with Donaldo Álvarez Ruiz, then Interior Minister, and Colonel Germán Chupina Barahona, then General Director of the National Police.
Reynaldo Aroldo Paniagua Cordero, Third Chief and Inspector General (Tercer Jefe e Inspector General del Ramo), alleged by the indictment to have directed the operation against the embassy, along with Pedro Garcia Arredondo and Gonzalo Perez Vazquez.
Gonzalo Perez Vazquez, First Chief of the First Corps of the National Police (Primer Jefe del Primer Cuerpo de la Policía Nacional), alleged by the indictment to have directed the operation against the embassy, along with Pedro Garcia Arredondo and Reynaldo Aroldo Paniagua Cordero.
Ricardo Mendez Ruiz is the director of the so-called “Foundation Against Terrorism” (Fundación Contra el Terrorismo), which opposes prosecutions of former miitary officers for grave crimes, and the son of the Interior Minister of former dictator Ríos Montt. During the first phase of the trial, he and his lawyer Moises Galindo (who also represented Rios Montt co-accused Mauricio Sanchez during his genocide trial), sought from the court permission to take part in the trial as civil parties (querrellantes). This was ultimately rejected as too late as it came during the proceedings.
Committee of Campesino Unity (Comité de Unidad Campesino, CUC)
Robin Garcia Revolutionary Student Front, allied with EGP
3. THE MOLINA THEISSEN CASE
- Benedicto Lucas García, former Army chief of staff.
- Manuel Callejas y Callejas, former head of military intelligence and presumed leader of the Cofradía organized crime syndicate.
- Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, commander of Military Zone No. 17 where Emma Molina Theissen was detained in Quetzaltenango in 1981.
- Edilberto Letona Linares, former second commander of Military Zone No. 17.
- Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas, former “S-2” intelligence official of the chief of staff.
Lawyers for the Defendants:
- Jorge Lucas Cerna, son of Benedicto Lucas García, and his defense attorney
- Julio Anaya Cardona, defense attorney for Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas
- Alejandro Arriaza, defense counsel for Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez
- Jose Luis Alejo Rodríguez and Jorge Rodrigo Meoño Barillas, defense counsel for Edilberto Letona Linares
- Valdemar Antonio Figueroa, defense counsel for Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas
- The Molina Theissen family is a civil party to the case, represented by lawyer Alejandro Rodríguez.
- Emma Theissen Álvarez de Molina, the victims’ mother, is also a civil party to the case.
- Erick de León
Counsel for the Prosecutor General’s Office:
- Eliseo Humberto Solís Muñoz
- Pre-Trial Judge of High Risk Court “C”: Judge Víctor Herrera Ríos
- Trial Judges of High Risk Court “C”: Judge Pablo Xitumul de Paz (presiding), Judge Eva Marina Recinos Vásquez, and Judge Elvis David Hernández Domínguez
November 13, 1960
The Guatemalan internal armed conflict begins when a failed revolt by left-wing military officers led the military government to launch a counter-insurgency campaign in response.
March 7, 1978
General Fernando Romeo Lucas García is elected to power, and intensifies the counter-insurgency campaign. Guatemala’s military decimated villages, and carried out assassinations, disappearances, kidnappings, torture, robbery, and rape, especially in the northern department of El Quiché. The government refused to recognize the right of many indigenous campesinos to live on their land.
January 31, 1980
Protesters occupy the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala. The security forces lay siege to the embassy. Thirty-seven people were killed in the subsequent fire. There were only two survivors, including the Spanish ambassador.
February 1, 1980
One of the two survivors of the embassy siege, Gregorio Yujá Xoná, was kidnapped from the private hospital where he was recovering from severe burns. Yujá Xoná’s tortured corpse was found on the University of San Carlos campus, with a placard calling him a terrorist brought to justice, and threatening the Spanish ambassador with the same fate.
February 2, 1980
During a massive funeral march for the protesters who died, two additional student leaders were killed.The Spanish ambassador fled Guatemala soon after. Spain did not re-establish diplomatic ties with Guatemala until September 22, 1984, after Guatemala officially apologized to Spain and acknowledged its violation of international law.
March 23, 1982
In a military coup, General José Efraín Ríos Montt deposes General Lucas García prior to a presidential transition, and initially establishes a three-member military junta before assuming total control.
August 8, 1983
Óscar Humberto Mejía Víctores, Minister of Defense under Ríos Montt seizes power in a military coup.
January 10, 1986
Mejía Víctores issues Decree 8-86, a general amnesty to all those responsible for, or accused of, political and related common crimes committed between March 23, 1982 and January 14, 1986.
The first of various peace agreements is signed – “Basic Agreement for the Search for Peace” (Acuerdo Básico para la Búsqueda de la Paz) – as the brutal civil war draws to a close.
June 23, 1994
The parties agree to establish a truth commission – or Historical Clarification Commission – under the United Nations (Acuerdo sobre el Establecimiento de la Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico, also known as the Oslo Accord).
December 18, 1996
Congress passes the National Reconciliation Law (Decree 145-96), including a limited amnesty, and explicitly excluding from the amnesty genocide, torture, forced disappearance, and other international crimes.
December 29, 1996
The parties sign a peace accord (Acuerdo de Paz Firme y Duradera y el Acuerdo sobre Cronograma para la Implementación, Cumplimiento y Verificación de los Acuerdos de Paz).
Decree 133-97 repeals all amnesty laws prior to 1996.
February 3, 1998
In Resolution 6-98, Congress requests the UN-backed Historical Clarification Commission investigate the case of the Spanish embassy killings and commemorates the civilians killed as those “who gave their lives to find a path for a better future and to reach a firm and lasting peace.”
April 24, 1998
Bishop Juan José Gerardi, of the Office of Human Rights of the Archdiocese of Guatemala, publishes Guatemala: Nunca Más (Never Again), the first of two reports elaborating the violations committed during the armed conflict. Bishop Gerardi is bludgeoned to death outside his home two days after the report’s release.
The UN’s Historical Clarification Commission (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico, or CEH) releases its report.
A group of Guatemalans, including Rigoberta Menchú, file charges in Spain against eight high-ranking officials, including Ríos Montt, Mejía Victores, Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, accusing them of international crimes—torture, genocide, illegal detention and state-sponsored terrorism—under a 1985 Spanish law establishing universal jurisdiction for such crimes. Baltazar Garzón, the Spanish judge responsible for the 1988 arrest warrant against Pinochet, is at first assigned to the case. In 2006, the case is re-assigned to Judge Santiago Pedraz who traveled to Guatemala to gather evidence. After initially accepting the warrants and arresting two defendants, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court declares the warrants invalid in 2007, refuses to order extradition and instead orders the release of the two detained defendants. In January 2008, Judge Pedraz invites all interested to present evidence on the genocide case in Spain. Hearings take place in Madrid, including the presentation of testimonial, expert and forensic evidence. The case remains active, though without the cooperation of the Guatemalan government.
August 9, 2000
Alfonso Portillo, then President of Guatemala, recognizes state responsibility before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Molina Theissen, who had been disappeared. This is the first time the Guatemalan state accepts state responsibility for human rights violations committed during the country’s brutal armed conflict.
The Guatemalan government establishes a National Reparations Program (Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento, or PNR).
The Public Ministry establishes a Human Rights Prosecution Unit to investigate and prosecute crimes perpetrated against journalists, trade union representatives, prosecutorial and judicial actors, human rights defenders and others, and to continue investigations of the violations elaborated in the CEH report.
July 18, 2005
Then Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein issues a public apology to families and survivors of the July 18, 1982 massacre at Plan de Sánchez in which the Guatemalan army killed 268 people.
The Guatemalan government and the United Nations, with international support, establishes the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), to assist the state in investigating organized crime and parallel power structures that had come to prominence during the internal armed conflict.
The Guatemalan Constitutional Court rules that the 1996 amnesty excludes serious human rights violations.
Felipe Cusanero, an ex-paramilitary leader, is convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the forced disappearance of six indigenous people between 1982 and 1984. In a series of trials over the next years, soldiers, police, paramilitaries, civil self-defense patrolla (patrullas de autodefensa civil) and one guerrilla are prosecuted for international crimes. Some are convicted for forced disappearance and crimes against humanity in connection with the massacres at Dos Erres and Plan de Sanchez. Up until the present, the highest-ranking state security official prosecuted and convicted for international crimes was Pedro Garcia Arredondo, a former police chief, convicted August 21, 2012 in connection with the disappearance of Edgar Saenz, a student.
The judiciary, under then Supreme Court judge Cesar Barrientos, establishes separate “high risk courts” for politically complex cases.
October 18, 2011
The case of the killings at the Spanish Embassy is brought to court (Court 11 of the First Criminal Court / Juzgado 11 de Primera Instancia Penal). Judge Eduardo Cojulun issues an arrest warrant against Pedro Garcia Arredondo on charges of murder and crimes against humanity (according to Art. 378 Guatemala’s Criminal Code).
November 29, 2011
Pedro García Arredondo appears before Judge Cojulun for the first time and declines to issue a plea.
April 23, 2012
Prosecutors present a related indictment against Arredondo, charging him with the murder of two university students during the communal funeral following the Spanish embassy fire.
April 30, 2012
Judge Cojulun accepts the murder charges in the first indictment, but rejected the related crimes against humanity charges; this decision is appealed by prosecutors and civil parties.
May 21, 2012
Judge Cojulun accepts the murder charges related to the killing of the two students during the communal funeral.
June 5, 2012
The Supreme Court grants the prosecutor’s request for the case against Arredondo to be transferred to a high-risk court, and the case is then transferred to high-risk court “B” under investigative pre-trial judge Miguel Angel Gálvez.
March 19, 2013
The trial of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt and his intelligence chief Maurizio Rodriguez Sanchez begins before a three-judge panel.
May 10, 2013
After a tumultuous six week trial, Rios Montt is found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, while Rodriguez Sanchez is acquitted. Rios Montt is given an 80 year sentence, and is moved from house arrest to a prison hospital.
May 21, 2013
Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturns the Rios Montt verdict by a 3-2 vote, and sets the court proceedings back to April 19, derailing the proceedings.
Judge Miguel Angel Galvez accepts the indictment for the attempted murders of the only two survivors of the Spanish embassy fire— then Ambassador Cajál and campesino Gregorio Yujá Xoná.
July 12, 2013
Judge Galvez ordered the opening of the trial which, on September 19, established a start date of October 1, 2014.
October 1, 2014
The trial for the Spanish embassy fire opens against Pedro Garcia Arredondo.
January 19, 2015
Judges on the high-risk court convict Pedro Garcia Arredondo of homicide and crimes against humanity for his leadership of the 1980 siege of the Spanish embassy.
January 22, 2015
The high-risk court orders Arredondo to pay 9 million quetzals (approximately $1.2 million) to the victims’ families in reparations, to be divided among the families of six of the victims who died in the Spanish embassy fire.
May 8, 2015
Guatemalan vice president Roxane Baldetti resigns due to her alleged involvement in a customs tax scandal investigated by the public prosecutor and CICIG.
September 2, 2015
Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molino resigns over corruption charges also related to the custom tax scandal.
October 28, 2015
The Supreme Court of Justice opens a third high-risk court, called group “C.”
January 6, 2016
Four senior retired military officers are arrested in relation to the Molina Theissen case (Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas, Edilberto Letona Linares, Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, and Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas) on the same day that 14 other former senior military officials are arrested in relation to the CREOMPAZ enforced disappearance case.
February 1, 2016
The Sepur Zarco trial begins before High Risk Tribunal “A.” Former base commander Lieutenant Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Giron and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asig are charged with sexual violence and other crimes related to Guatemala’s civil conflict that occurred at the Sepur Zarco military base.
February 26, 2016
High Risk Tribunal “A” convicts the defendants of crimes against humanity for murder, sexual slavery, and other atrocities committed at the Sepur Zarco army base in 1982 and 1983. Esteelmer Reyes Girón is given prison sentences totaling 120 years. Heriberto Valdez Asij is given sentences totaling 240 years. This is the first time a Guatemalan court prosecuted a case of sexual violence related to the country’s 36-year internal armed conflict. It is also the first time a case of domestic and sexual slavery is prosecuted in any domestic court.
Lawyers for Edilberto Letona Linares file an appeal in the Molina Theissen case seeking application of the amnesty provisions of the 1996 National Reconciliation Law and requesting that his case be moved to a military court.
May 18, 2016
The Third Court of Appeals rejects the Letona Linares appeal in the Molina Theissen case, as the amnesty provisions of the National Reconciliation Law exclude grave crimes including genocide, torture, and crimes against humanity.
Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice rules in favor of a request from the Attorney General’s Office to move the Molina Theissen case to High Risk Court “C.”
June 16, 2016
High Risk Court “C” officially receives the Molina Theissen case. Judge Víctor Herrera Ríos takes charge of the pre-trial proceedings.
Over the course of two hearings before High Risk Court “C,” the Attorney General’s Office presents additional charges against the original four defendants in the Molina Theissen case and seeks to charge a fifth former senior military official: Manuel Benedicto Lucas García. Lucas García was already in custody; police had arrested him in January 2016 in relation to the CREOMPAZ case.
Over the course of two hearings, Benedicto Lucas García denies the charges against him in the Molina Theissen case, stating that he was unaware of the events surrounding Emma and Marco Antonio Molina Theissen. Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas state that the case is politically motivated and accused the Molina Theissen family of also having financial motivations for the case.
In the Molina Theissen case, Judge Herrera Ríos rules that there is sufficient evidence to initiate criminal proceedings against Benedicto Lucas García. The judge also adds new charges of crimes against humanity to the case against Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas and charges of aggravated sexual assault against him and the other three original defendants. Judge Herrera Ríos also rules against a defense request to release the five accused from pre-trial detention.
In a series of hearings, Prosecutor Erick de León presents the evidence against the five defendants in the Molina Theissen case, followed by presentations from the civil party lawyer for the Molina Theissen family, and arguments by lawyers for the defense.
March 2, 2017
In the Molina Theissen case, Judge Herrera Ríos rules that there is sufficient evidence to send all five defendants to trial.
May 2, 2017
In the Molina Theissen case, Judge Herrera Ríos admits the mother of the victims, Emma Theissen Álvarez de Molina, as a private prosecutor (querellante adhesivo) in the case.
July 25, 2017
Judge Herrera Ríos concludes the final stage of pre-trial proceedings in the Molina Theissen case, in which the judge is required to review evidence and determine its admissibility. He admits all evidence provided by the prosecutors and civil parties, and rejects a number of defense motions. The case will be heard by the three-judge trial bench of High Risk Court “C:” Judge Pablo Xitumul de Paz (presiding), Judge Eva Marina Recinos Vásquez, and Judge Elvis David Hernández Domínguez.
The trial chamber of High Risk Court “C” informs the parties that the Molina Theissen case will go to trial on March 1, 2018.
October 13, 2017
After several years of delay, the retrial of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt and his intelligence chief Maurizio Rodriguez Sanchez begins before High Risk Tribunal “B” in Guatemala City.
March 1, 2018
High Risk Tribunal “C” begins trial hearings in the Molina Theissen case against five retired senior military officers: Benedicto Lucas García, Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas, Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, Edilberto Letona Linares, and Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas. All five are facing charges of crimes against humanity for the 1981 illegal detention, torture, and rape of Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen, and the enforced disappearance of her 14-year old brother, Marco Antonio Molina Theissen.
April 1, 2018
Efrain Rios Montt dies at the age of 91 in Guatemala City. His retrial on charges of genocide had been ongoing at the time of his death.
May 23, 2018
High Risk Tribunal “C” unanimously convicts Benedicto Lucas García, Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas, Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, and Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas of crimes against humanity against Emma Molina Theissen. The court sentences them to 25 years in prison. The court also finds the four officials guilty of aggravated sexual violation of Emma and for this sentences them to an additional eight years.
The tribunal also finds Lucas García, Callejas y Callejas, and Zaldaña Rojas guilty of the enforced disappearance of Marco Antonio Theissen, Emma’s 14-year-old brother. For this, the court sentences them to an additional 25 years in prison.
Edilberto Letona Linares is acquitted of all charges.