International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Timeline

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.

March 1990

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).

December 1997

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.

February 1999

The UN’s Historical Clarification Commission (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico, or CEH) releases its report.

December 1999

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.

May 2003

The Guatemalan government establishes a National Reparations Program (Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento, or PNR).

March 2005

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.

September 2007

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.

December 2008

The Guatemalan Constitutional Court rules that the 1996 amnesty excludes serious human rights violations.

August 2009

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.

September 2009

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.

June 2013

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.

March 2016

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.

May 2016

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.

August 2016

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.

August-September 2016

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.

October 2016

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.

January-February 2017

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.

October 2017

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.