Women survivors of Sepur Zarco stand and raise their hands in acknowledgement of the guilty verdict and sentence. Photo: EPA
Yesterday marked an historic day for both Guatemala and the world in the struggle to seek justice for gender-based crimes. Retired Coronel Esteelmer Reyes Girón and former Military Commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asig were convicted of crimes against humanity for the sexual and domestic enslavement of Q’eqchi women in Sepur Zarco during the country’s internal armed conflict, marking the first time Guatemalan courts have successfully prosecuted sexual violence as a crime against humanity.
Reyes Girón was sentenced to a total of 120 years in prison – 90 years for the murder of Dominga Coc and her two daughters and 30 years for crimes against humanity related to sexual and domestic slavery. Valdez Asig was sentenced to 240 years in prison – 210 years for the forced disappearance of 7 men and an additional 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity.
“The damage done to the victims goes beyond their bodies and minds. It tears the social fabric,” read presiding Judge Yasmin Barrios in the sentence delivered by the 3-judge tribunal. “The survivors had to wait years to break the silence, be heard, and receive justice. Access to justice for the women, hearing their history, will help guarantee these types of crimes never happen again.”
The reparations hearing is set for March 2 at 8:30 AM CST.
In the sentence accompanying the verdict, the tribunal recognized testimony chronicling the process of communities surrounding Sepur Zarco to claim land titles in the early 1980s. The accused were convicted of disappearing seven men from those communities, after which the women were detained and forced into sexual and domestic slavery. “The women were raped as a moral and physical attack against the community”, stated Judge Barrios, representing an assault against the core of the community body and social fabric as well. The sentence deplored the fact that the women were seen as “available” by the military once their husbands were disappeared.
Citing Elis Gabriela Mendoza’s expert testimony in forensic architecture and her 3-D reconstruction of the Sepur Zarco military base, the tribunal also found the accused could not claim ignorance to the sexual and domestic slavery that was taking place at the base.