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Guatemala: UN experts welcome judgment of two former military officials for crimes against humanity

GENEVA (1st March 2016) - A group of United Nations human rights experts* today welcomed the verdicts for crimes against humanity issued by a Guatemalan Court against two former military officials.

In its decision, the Court ruled that the sexual violence perpetrated against Q’eqchi indigenous women was part of a broader control and domination plan by the Guatemalan Army, in the context of the counterinsurgency policy of the 1980s.

“It is a historic moment. This is the first case under national courts in Guatemala that addresses, as main element, the sexual violence committed against indigenous women during the internal armed conflict, and recognizes it as a crime against humanity,” the experts stressed.

Former army commander Steelmer Reyes Girón and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij were respectively condemned last week to sentences of 120 years and 240 years in prison, for their perpetration of crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence and murder, in the case of Reyes Girón, and sexual violence and enforced disappearance, in the case of Valdez Asij.

The Court noted that the offenses were committed under a strategy aimed at eliminating the men who sought to claim their collective right to indigenous lands and forcing their widows to serve the military, including sexually. The victims were subjected to sexual violence, sexual slavery, domestic slavery, as well as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The Court also recognized the impact on the entire community of these abuses committed against women.

“We commend the courage and the crucial role played by women in this justice seeking process, which has established an important precedent for all women victims of violence, past and present,” the experts stated. “Without the unwavering commitment of these victims, this trial and the historic step towards truth and justice would not have been possible.”

Concerned by the high rates of impunity and violence, the experts recalled the State’s obligation to “take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of women victims, witnesses, justice practitioners and those who participated and supported this judicial process.”

“In view of the upcoming reparations judgement scheduled for 2 March, we urge the authorities to ensure the provision of appropriate and gender sensitive measures of redress to the victims of these crimes, and to their indigenous communities,” they urged.

The Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous persons, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonoviæ, were in Guatemala last week observing the last two days of the public hearings, in solidarity with the victims.

The experts also commended the invaluable support of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala during this process.

(*) The experts: Mr. Juan E. Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Ms. Mónica Pinto, Special Rapporteur on independence of the judiciary; Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Mr. Pablo de Greiff, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Ms. Eleonora Zielinska, Chair of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice;  Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous persons, Mr. Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

Check the General comment by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on women affected by enforced disappearances: 

For more information and media requests please contact Victoria Kuhn (+41 22 917 9278 / vkuhn@ohchr.org) or Gabriela Guzmán (+41 22 917 9412 / gguzman@ohchr.org)

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