PBI-Guatemala observes National Day of Forced Disappearance ceremony
On Friday June 21, the PBI – Guatemala Project observed a ceremony in which Indigenous Achi Mayan women commemorated the National Day of Forced Disappearance.
An estimated 45,000 men, women and children were disappeared during the 36-year-long internal armed conflict in Guatemala that began not long after a US-backed coup and ended in 1996.
The Commission for Historical Clarification found that the Guatemalan government was responsible for more than 90 per cent of the deaths, disappearances and other human rights violations during the war and that 83 per cent of the victims were Indigenous Maya.
The commemoration ceremony took place on the steps of the Supreme Court of Justice of Guatemala in Guatemala City prior to a court hearing on wartime sexual violence against 36 Maya Achi women in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz between 1981 and 1985.
The International Justice Monitor has reported, “In the late 1970s, the Guatemalan army created civil defense patrols (PACs) as a mechanism of social control and to combat the guerrillas.”
It adds, “The army appointed local military commissioners to organize and control the PACs, which became a central element of the Guatemala’s counterinsurgency strategy.”
That article highlights, “The Recovery of Historical Memory Project at the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala found that military commissioners and PAC members were identified as perpetrators in one out of every four massacres.”
At the court hearing on Friday (June 21), the judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to send six former PAC paramilitary patrol members to trial for crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence against the 36 Maya Achi women.
Al Jazeera reports, “Three of the six [former PAC members] were acquitted. The other three will also be released, but judge Claudette Dominguez gave prosecutors a month to present further evidence and will hold a hearing on August 5 to determine whether they will be acquitted or the case will proceed to trial.”
The article also notes, “Many of the women speak little or no Spanish, and no interpretation had been provided by the court. One of the women’s lawyers explained the outcome, as a mixture of grief, frustration and resignation settled in.”
And the Al Jazeera article highlights, “Plans are already in the works to appeal the judge’s rulings.”
In April 2019, the International Justice Monitor also reported, “The Attorney General’s Office has not yet filed any charges against mid-ranking or senior military officials in this case [of sexual violence against the 36 Maya Achi women]. However, it is known that the military base of Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, was under the jurisdiction of Military Zone No. 21, where the remains of 565 people were exhumed in 2012.”
On June 20, PBI – Guatemala Project accompanied the Human Rights Law Firm (Bufete de Derechos Humano – BDH) and survivors in the Military Zone 21 case to the Femicide Court to demand that a writ of amparo (protection order) be issued by the court.
In January 2016, the Guatemalan Public Ministry charged a number of former military officials for crimes that took place at Military Zone 21 (now CREOMPAZ, a United Nations peacekeeping training base).
Later that year, Judge Claudette Domínguez (the same judge who ruled against the Achi Mayan women last week) ruled that eight high-ranking former military officials would go to trial but accepted only 29 of the 154 witnesses proposed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
All of the survivors of sexual violence at Military Zone 21 were excluded as witnesses.
To read Sandra Cuffe’s article ‘Guatemala survivors of wartime sexual violence fight for justice’, please go to https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/06/guatemala-survivors-wartime-sexual-violence-fight-justice-190621194734839.html