Guatemala: Rape as a Military Strategy
February 28, 2016
The Sepur Zarco case is the first wartime sexual abuse case prosecuted in Guatemala and the first involving sexual slavery tried in a national court. Two former Guatemalan soldiers have been sentenced to 120 and 240 years in prison after they were found guilty of raping women in the Sepur Zarco military base in the 1980s as part of a military strategy. The judge rejected the idea that sexual violence was simply to satisfy the desires of the soldiers, but that it was a weapon of war.
Guatemala: Soldiers Sentenced to 240 Years for Systematic Rape
(February 26, 2016) -- The Sepur Zarco case is the first wartime sexual abuse case prosecuted in Guatemala, and the first of sexual and domestic slavery tried in a national court.
Two former Guatemalan soldiers have been sentenced to 120 and 240 years in prison after they were found guilty of raping women in the Sepur Zarco military base in the 1980s as part of a military strategy.
Coronel Esteelmer Reyes Giron and former soldier Valdez Asig were found guilty of crimes against humanity, including the enforced disappearance of seven men, and the systematic rape and enslavement of 11 women in the historic case.
This is the first case of wartime sexual abuse prosecuted in Guatemala, as well the first case of sexual and domestic slavery tried in a national court.
To a packed courtroom, including the UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, Judge Jazmin Barrios said that she had found the testimonies of the women to be "completely credible."
"We find the treatment of the women of Sepur Zarco to have been completely humiliating and degrading," she said.
She rejected the idea that sexual violence in the military base was to satisfy the sexual desires of the soldiers, but was a weapon of war. "There was a strategic design to pulverize the social fabric and to prevent its reproductive," she said.
The judge found that there were various consistencies in the testimonies of the women: that the women were not widows but that their husbands had been "disappeared," and that the soldiers then begun to systematically rape them.
Jo-Marie Burt, a trial observer with The Washington Office on Latin America, told teleSUR that the ruling was an extremely important moment for Guatemalan justice.
"The world was watching to see if in fact Guatemala could accomplish this incredible precedent, not only that it could prosecute sexual violence, but also the crime of sexual slavery internationally," she said. "(The ruling) is acknowledging the consequences of Guatemala's internal conflict, addressing sexual violence and slavery, as well as homicide and enforced disappearances."
During the ruling, Judge Barrios made reference to Dominga Coc, who was raped daily and then murdered alongside her two small daughters by a riverside.
The two accused were each handed 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity, and then 30 years for each of the seven cases of forced disappearance.
"It was a very strong statement," said Burt. "They were such strong sentences because these crimes are so heinous, so contrary to the norms of war, and to norms of humanity."
Guatemala has struggled for years with impunity for those in charge who inflicted such violence in the Central American country's civil war. Burt warned that despite the success of the Sepur Zarco case, impunity was still present.
"What's important to note however is that the defendants are mid-ranking military officers, so it's significant but they're not the head honchos, not the big fish," she added.
The historic trial, which began February 1 this year, sought to prove that 11 women were victims of sexual abuse and domestic slavery in the Sepur Zarco military base, between 1982 and 1986.
The Indigenous Q'eqchi' women were held captive as domestic slaves after their husbands were disappeared and murdered by the military.
'Available Meat:' Rape Used
As Weapon of War in Guatemala
(February 18, 2016) -- The landmark Guatemalan case seeks to prove that the systematic rape of 11 women at the Sepur Zarco military base was a war crime. Rape and sexual violence were used as weapons of war in Guatemala, two expert witnesses in the Sepur Zarco sex slavery trial said Thursday.
The case, now in its third week, seeks to prove that the systematic rape of 11 women at the Sepur Zarco military base in the 1980s was a war crime. The indigenous Q'eqchi' women were held captive as domestic slaves after their husbands were disappeared and murdered by the military.
Gender specialist Dr. Rita Laura Segato told the court: "Rape is not 'collateral damage' in war; rape is used strategically, it is a weapon of war."
Paloma Soria, a lawyer who specializes in issues surrounding gender, said the state must hold accountable those responsible for the crimes. "The Guatemalan state has the obligation of investigating, judging and punishing gender crimes," she said.
Jo-Marie Burt, a trial observer with The Washington Office on Latin America, told teleSUR that it is important to understand that rape is not just a "byproduct of war . . . because boys will be boys."
"It's a message. It's a way to humiliate, not just the women, but their husbands and their community. It's a way to say you are powerless against us. It's a way of saying we control you, and because we control you we control what happens in this community. And that's what happened in Sepur Zarco," she said.
According to Burt, the women suffered profound isolation after the systematic rapes and entire communities were fragmented. "One witness said they were called 'available meat,'" Burt added.
Earlier in the trial, witness Julia Coc revealed that fellow victim Dominga Choc was forced to dig a grave where she and the bodies of her daughters Herlinda and Anita were buried.
"She had to dig her grave and (the soldiers) killed her even though she just finished washing their clothes," said Coc.
Coc also described the murder of her own daughter and grandchildren, who were the only three deaths documented as part of the crimes committed by the army in the Sepur Zarco military base and the surrounding area in the 1980s.
Coc also confirmed that Dominga was taken with her two children to wash clothes at the Rojquipur River and was sexually abused before being killed.
"They told her to wash herself because they were going to set her free, but it was actually to rape her," Coc told the court. She added that her own daughter and granddaughters were constantly unwell due to the continual sexual abuse.
When the remains of her family were exhumed, the bones and clothes of her daughter were found, but in the case of her granddaughters their bones "were already dust" and all that was left were their underwear, she concluded.
Throughout the trial, the witnesses have worn scarves over their heads to hide their faces. According to Burt, this is because of the "social stigma" they could face from their traditional rural communities.
But there are also safety concerns. Protesters have gathered outside the courtroom opposing the trial, "yelling through a bullhorn that the victims are liars, and the people prosecuting are terrorists," Burt explained.
The historic trial, which began Feb. 1 this year, seeks to prove that 11 women were victims of sexual abuse and domestic slavery in the Sepur Zarco military base, between 1982 and 1986. It considers the acts committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Standing accused are Coronel Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Giron and former soldier Heriberto Valdez Asij, who have been in prison for the last 20 years.
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