Ex-colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón and ex-military commissioner Heriberto Valdéz Asij were arraigned and ordered to pre-trial detention on June 23 by Tribunal “B” of the High Risk Crimes Court. The two will remain in prison while they await trial on charges of assassination, forced disappearance, and crimes against humanity.

Estelmer Reyes Girón and Heriberto Valdéz Asij in court on June 23.
Photo: CPR-Urbana

The accusations stem from acts ostensibly committed between 1982 and 1983, when Reyes served as colonel of the military base Sepur Zarco, located in eastern Guatemalan department of Izabal, with Valdez as his subordinate. Reyes is accused of the assassination of Dominga Coc and her two daughters, whose remains were exhumed and identified by specialists with the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation. Valdez is accused of forcibly disappearing a group of campesinos in 1982, who were at the time involved in a prolonged struggle to obtain legal titles for their lands.

The two are additionally accused of holding at least 15 Q’eqchí women as sexual slaves in the military base between 1982 and 1988. The women were enslaved after their husbands were forcibly disappeared, and held hostage in the military base for at least 6 months.

In September 2012, these 15 women presented their testimony to the court in anticipation of the upcoming trial. The women, concerned for their personal security, wore scarves over their heads to protect their identities as they recounted their stories.

In September 2012 15 women presented their testimony to a Guatemalan court.
Photo: Sandra Sebastián

According to the Commission for Historical Clarification, sexual violence was a “widespread and systematic practice by state agents as part of the counterinsurgency strategy” during Guatemala’s 36-year long internal armed conflict. The women of the Sepur Zarco case set global precedent when the trial opened, as the first time the crime of sexual slavery as a crime against humanity was tried in a national court.

Judge Miguel Ángel Alvez reads his order sentencing Valdéz and Reyes to await trail in prison. (En español)

After the court presented its order, the ex-military officials were immediately brought to the Mariscal Zavala Prison. The two men will remain imprisoned until the commencement of their trial, which is tentatively scheduled for the beginning of October.

NISGUA, through the Guatemalan Accompaniment and ACOGUATE, has accompanied the Sepur Zarco case since 2012.