2012 was a very active year for ACOGUATE and the cases in which we accompany witnesses and plaintiffs in search for justice. Human rights defenders working for truth are amongst the most threatened groups, according to the Human Rights Defenders’ Protection Unit of Guatemala (UDEFEGUA)[i]. Here are some of the highlights in the search for justice from 2012. NISGUA is one of the eleven international organizations that form ACOGUATE’s international accompaniment project. See the original version of this article in Spanish on ACOGUATE’s blog here.

Since February, exhumations have been undertaken at CREOMPAZ, the former military base in Cobán. To date, more than 60 mass graves and almost 500 skeletons have been exhumed and there are still 13 grave sites waiting to be exhumed.

Cases of the Past

In the genocide case, in January 2012, after losing immunity as a Congressional representative (2000-2012), José Efraín Ríos Montt was summoned to make his first statement. Four other ex-generals had been processed for genocide and crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, on January 15th 2012, the judge provisionally suspended criminal prosecution against Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores because of his state of health and ordered that he complete periodic medical evaluations[ii]. Héctor Mario López Fuentes’ lawyers have also argued that his own weak state of health means he should not be prosecuted. In addition to these motions, others have been presented as obstacles. Defense lawyers have filed challenges against the two judges in charge of the investigation, Carol Patricia Flores and Miguel Ángel Gálvez. Currently, in Ríos Montt’s case, the resolution of various legal motions is being awaited before the judge can decide if the oral and public debate will open in the first case for genocide to be heard in a national court in Latin America. See NISGUA’s articles Ríos Montt to Testify, Mejía Victores Unfit for Trial and Efraín Ríos Montt to Stand Trial for Genocide.

ACOGUATE accompanies the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) and members of the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH)’s legal team, both organizations serve as plaintiffs in the case.

On March 20th 2012, in another case with origins in the internal armed conflict, a former military commissioner and four ex-members of the Civil Defense Patrols were sentenced to 7,710 years for their participation in the massacre of Plan de Sanchez. The sentence was in recognition of each of the 256 assassinated victims. In addition, as part of the sentence, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Education were required to produce an educational documentary about the massacre in order to memorialize the victims. The Public Prosecutor is also required to continue its investigations into other perpetrators of the massacre. On September 26th, the public defense appealed the sentence, arguing that those sentenced had been obliged and under threat and that the intellectual authors of the massacre should be investigated. ACOGUATE has accompanied the witnesses since the year 2000 and observed the hearings. See NISGUA’s article Paramilitaries Sentenced to Thousands of Years for Plan de Sánchez Massacre.

In the case of the massacre of Dos Erres, after a first sentencing against four former military personnel in August 2011, on March 12th 2012, a former Kaibil (special forces) sub-instructor, Pedro Pimentel Ríos, was sentenced for his involvement in the massacre. The sentence against Pimental Ríos was the maximum possible, 30 years for each of the 201 people killed and 30 years more for crimes against humanity – a total of 6,060 years of which 50 years are non-commutable. Also, the court ordered that compensation should be provided to the plaintiffs in the form of housing and that the sentence should be transmitted on the national TV and radio channels so that the history of the community is better known. ACOGUATE accompanies FAMDEGUA, the plaintiff in this case.

On May 21, José Efraín Ríos Montt was processed for genocide as intellectual author of the Dos Erres massacre. Ríos Montt has attempted to appeal for amnesty under the National Reconciliation Law from 1996, even though the same law takes into account, in article 8, “the extinction of the criminal responsibility doesn’t apply to the crimes of genocide, torture, forced disappearance, or other crimes with regard to those which doesn’t exist a prescription or that don’t admit the extinction of criminal responsibility, of conformity with internal legislation or international treaties ratified by Guatemala.”

In August 2012, the former chief of the National Police, Pedro Garcia Arredondo, was sentenced to 40 years for the forced disappearance of the student leader, Edgar Saenz Calitos, and to 30 years for crimes against humanity. ACOGUATE observed the audiences. See NISGUA’s article on the sentence, Pedro García Arredondo Convicted and Sentenced to 70 years in prison.

In September hearings began on a case of women victims of sexual slavery during the internal armed conflict in Sepur Zarco, Panzos, Alta Verapaz[iii]. ACOGUATE accompanied Women Transforming the World (MTM) in this first case of its kind in the word to be heard in a national court.

On September 4th, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights passed sentence in the case of the massacres of Rio Negro and requested that the state of Guatemala investigates and brings to justice those responsible and also requests symbolic reparations to the victims[iv]. ACOGUATE accompanies the survivors.

Present Day Cases

The human rights defender Emilia Margarita Quan Staackmann was kidnapped on December 7th, 2010 in Huehuetenango, and her remains were located in the mountains of Huehuetenango the next day. On June 6, 2012 Jordy Paolo Cruz Bailon was sentenced to six years in prison for the crimes of femicide and unlawful association. Given its capacity, ACOGUATE observed some of the case’s hearings. UDEFEGUA congratulated the result, as “one more material advance in the search for justice for violations against human rights defenders and an example that when there is willingness and commitment the investigative body can clarify any criminal offense”[v].

On August 24th, the ex-mayor of Cotzal, Quiché, José Pérez Chen, was sentenced to 82 years of prison for crimes of extrajudicial execution, torture, illegal detention, kidnapping, abuse of authority, and discrimination. The case principally addressed the lynching of the police officer Pedro Rodríguez Toma on November 1st, 2009, and it has been an exemplary case not only regarding the abuse of authority but also in making the link between structures of power of the past and the present. ACOGUATE observed the hearings.

In June, the Austrian judicial body announced that it would investigate Javier Figueroa, the ex-subdirector of the National Civil Police (under the government of Oscar Berger, 2003 to 2007). Figueroa is accused of the crime of extrajudicial execution in the case of the killing of prisoners in the prisons Pavón and Infiernito in 2005 and 2006. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is investigating the case. The others accused are: the ex-Minister of the Interior Carlos Vielmann (currently in Spain), and the ex-director of the National Civil Police Edwin Sperisen (currently in Switzerland). In June of 2011, Amnesty International published a statement demanding that Figueroa and Sperisen be investigated[vi]. Sperisen was captured on August 31st and sent to preventive prison. Two requests for Sperisen’s release were denied due to the danger of escape. The process is in the investigative stage and Sperisen should be held prisoner until at least February 2013. Given his double nationality, Sperisen’s case is being heard in Switzerland[vii].

Vielmann remains at liberty after having paid a sum of 100 thousand Euros to Spain in December 2010. At the end of October 2012, Vielmann presented himself and gave testimony[viii] before the Spanish National Court, the body hearing the case.

These ex-State functionaries and members of the leadership of the PNC were in their positions when the massacre of Finca Nueva Linda was committed in 2004. In 2011 investigations began in Switzerland against Sperisen for his involvement in the case[ix]. ACOGUATE has accompanied the 200 families from Finca Nueva Linda since 2006.

[i]UDEFEGUA, October 2012, El Acompañante, www.udefegua.org
[ii]Prensa Libre, January 6, 2012, Juzgado suspende proceso, www.prensalibre.com.gt/noticias/Juzgado-suspende-proceso_0_622737749.html
[iii] Prensa Libre, September 21, 2012, Juez oirá a víctimas de esclavitud sexual, www.prensalibre.com/noticias/justicia/Juez-oira-victimas-esclavitud-sexual_0_778122199.html
[v] UDEFEGUA Communique, June 7, 2012, Condenan a uno de los responsables de la muerte de la defensora de derechos humanos, Emilia Margarita Quan Staackmann (08 de diciembre de 2010)
[vi] Amnesty International Communique, June 8, 2011, Debe procesarse a ex altos cargos guatemaltecos por homicidios
[vii] La Hora, December 3, 2012, Sperisen continúa en prisión preventiva en cárcel de Suiza, www.lahora.com.gt/index.php/nacional/guatemala/actualidad/169708-sperisen-continua-en-prision-preventiva-en-carcel-de-suiza
[viii] El Periódico, November 4, 2012, Suiza y España siguen casos contra exfuncionarios guatemaltecos, www.elperiodico.com.gt/es/20121104/pais/220131/
[ix] El Periódico, May 24, 2011, Suiza investiga a Sperisen en paquete de seis casos, www.elperiodico.com.gt/es/20110524/pais/195801