Trial Sepur Zarco: “An opportunity to transform justice for women”

This Monday, February 1 the first trial hearing took place against Lieutenant Cornel Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Giron and the Military ex-commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asig, who are being accused by the Prosecutor for Human Rights of the Public Ministry of committing crimes of sexual violence, sexual slavery and domestic slavery against the q’eqchi women, originally from the community of Sepur Zarco, at El Estor, Izabal.

 After a 30 year wait to be able to access formal justice, the women survivors were present at the Visitors Room of the Supreme Court of Justice, where the opening of the oral and public debate took place by the High Risk Court A,  composed by the judges Yassmin Barrios –President-, Patricia Bustamante and Gerbi Sical, -substitutes.  The women survivors try not to have more impunity for crimes against humanity that were committed against them between 1982 and 1983, during the internal armed conflict that lasted more than 36 years in Guatemala.

 Reyes Girón was the commander of the military settlement Sepur Zarco, where men and women residents of different communities were illegally detained and subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment.  As per the Public Ministry (Ministerio Público – MP), Reyes Girón violated the International Humanitarian Right, as the soldiers, under his command, committed the inhumane treatment to the civilian and noncombatant population of women, men, girls and boys.

 The accused Heriberto Valdez Asig was a military commissioner during the armed conflict and he was a municipal policeman for the municipality of Panzós, Alta Verapaz.


Women’s body as an instrument of domination

 During the armed conflict several organized families in the communities of Sepur Zarco in El Estor, Izabal and Semochoch, Alta Verapaz , were trying to find a way to legalize their lands so they were performing dealings with the already disappeared National Institute for Agrarian Transformation (Instituto Nacional de Transformación  Agraria – INTA).  The soldiers of the Sepur Zarco military settlement went to the communities and illegally detained the organized men and afterwards some of them were held in pits inside the military settlement.

 “As in the context of war the army considered them enemies.  The wives and daughters of the detained men were considered available single women and because of that they were sexually abused and they were subjected to sexual and domestic servitude”, said the female plaintiff lawyer from the Guatemalan Women’s Union (Unión de Mujeres Guatemaltecas – Unamg).

 As per the testimony offered by the surviving women as anticipated evidence, they were forced to cook and wash the soldiers clothing.  They were forced too, to continually have sexual intercourse with them.

 As per the plaintiff’s attorney criterion from the Collective Jalok U (Colectiva Jalok U) Esteban Zelada, the trial is to do a transformative justice for the women.  He mentioned too that the committed crimes against the women from Sepur Zarco must not go unpunished as it “offends the conscience of humanity”


Witnesses declare

 During the first day of the oral and public debate that took place in the Visitors Room of the Supreme Court of Justice, dozens of nationals and foreign people brought their support to the victims of the first trial for sexual violence, sexual and domestic slavery as in the context of war.

 Pedro Cuc, first witness originally from Sepur Zarco, recounted the pain and suffering of the men, women, elders, boys and girls that were caught by the members of the army and how they were subjected to forced labor.

 Juan Maquin Caal, a witness too stated: “When we ran away from our community towards the mountain approximately 92 people died because of the army”.  He cried afterwards as he remembered the disappearance of his uncle, while he continued giving his testimony.  At the same time, Mr. Maquin Caal told the Court that his mother confided in him that she had been sexually violated by the soldiers of Sepur Zarco who were under the command of Reyes Girón.

 “The responsibility falls on the leaders of the military settlement of Sepur Zarco for the abuse committed on my companions” said Rogelio Huitz Choc, third witness of the day, who pointed directly towards Heriberto Valdez as responsible of illegally detaining his father.  During the development of the trial hearing Mr. Rogelio showed his thorax where you could see the scars left from being tortured.  He mentioned too that they fractured some of his ribs and hip.

 In the Visitors Room of the Supreme Court of Justice the women representatives of Women Transforming the World (Mujeres Transformando el Mundo – MTM) and the Guatemalan Women’s National Union (Union Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas – UNAMG) were present as plaintiffs in the case.

 Women of several different organization showed their support to the surviving women, by covering their head and face with a typical wrap to show their solidarity.


Por Equipo de Comunicación MTM