An Ecuadorean federal court on Monday postponed the beginning of the historic trial for crimes against humanity after one of the accused had health issues barring him from attending proceedings, the National Court of Justice announced.
After reviewing the medical certificate, the court said a new date for the beginning of the trial would be scheduled, but failed to say when.
Former military official Mario Apolo's lawyer Javier Arregui presented the court with the doctor's note, which states the defendant is under medical observation.
The Ecuadorean Attorney General Galo Chiriboga announced the delay saying, “the logical thing would have been for the court to have began the trial, and wait on a reaction by the hospital to know when the officer could be available to face trial.”
According to El Diario, 69 witnesses, 11 forensic studies and more than 70 different documents will be presented during the trial.
The delay comes as Ecuadorean victims and their families have expressed increased hope they may finally see justice for historical crimes against humanity after almost three decades of impunity protecting the perpetrators.
The trial is the first ever for crimes against humanity. Five former military generals and colonels are facing charges for alleged crimes committed between 1985 and 1988 under the right-wing government of then President Leon Febres Cordero.
“Today the first trial for crimes against humanity in Ecuador begins.”
“We hope that Ecuadorean justice avails the evidence presented by the prosecution against five former military officials allegedly responsible for the crime against humanity," said Chiriboga ahead of the trial, adding that the case is not about “revenge” against the Armed Forces, but about bringing those guilty of crimes to justice.
The case deals with human rights abuses committed against three former members of the group Alfaro Vive Carajo, a revolutionary guerrilla movement that operated in Ecuador between 1982 and 1991. Former military officials will face trial for rights violations committed against Alfaro Vive Carajo members Luis Vaca, Susana Cajas, and Javier Jarrin between 1985 and 1988.
The documentary film Alfaro “Vive Carajo” documents the revolutionary group’s historical struggle. The documentary premiered earlier this year.
Vaca, Cajas, and Jarrin were arrested without a warrant on Nov. 10, 1985 in Ecuador’s northern province of Esmeraldas. They were detained by military intelligence who subjected them to harsh physical and psychological torture and sexual abuse.
Cajas and Jarrin were released after 15 days, while Vaca remained in detention for three years before his release in 1988.
The trial will gather evidence from 69 witnesses, 11 experts, and more than 70 documents relating to the crimes against humanity of illegal detention, sexual violence, torture, and enforced disappearance.
According to Ecuador’s Attorney General Galo Chiriboga, the case represents the country’s “legal commitment to the Ecuadorean society” to investigate crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice. “Prosecuting crimes against humanity is a pending task in Ecuador,” said Chiriboga.
The trial is the latest phase in Ecuador’s ongoing effort to seek justice for members of Alfaro Vive Carajo and other victims of historical political persecution and human rights violations committed under the government of Febres Cordero, who oversaw an authoritarian crackdown on political dissidents.
Although Ecuador returned to civilian rule after years of military dictatorship in 1979, the so-called transition to democracy did not ensure human rights were respected. Under Febres Cordero from 1984 to 1988, arbitrary detentions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and forced disappearances, as suffered by members of Alfaro Vive Carajo, were widespread.
“Arturo Jarrin, leader of Alfaro Vive Carajo, has a monument in the University of Guayaquil.” Arturo Jarrin was assassinated in 1986.
In 2007, the government of current President Rafael Correa established a Truth Commission to investigate abuses committed under Febres Cordero and seek an end to impunity.
The current crimes against humanity case in Ecuador’s National Court of Justice involves eight accused former military officials, but three are fugitives and cannot be tried in absentia. Five former military officials will stand trial starting Monday.
The trial in Ecuador aims to end historic impunity for crimes against humanity. It mirrors other truth and reconciliation processes in the region that seek justice for historical abuses under right-wing governments and dictatorships, such as in Chile under General Augusto Pinochet and Argentina under General Rafael Videla.
Many disappearances in the region have been seen as part of the U.S.-backed Operation Condor, which saw dictatorships quash rebellious voices and leftist movements throughout the continent.
The case marks a historic move for justice in Ecuador as the first trial against humanity in the country’s history.