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 U.N. 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.
"The brave and dignified women survivors of #SepurZarco salute after hearing the sentence"
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.”
"Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchu and leader Rosalina Hernandez, listen to the sentence of the Sepur Zarco judgement"
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 Feb. 1 this year, sought to prove that 11 women were victims of sexual abuse and domestic slavery in the 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.