The fate of a historic dictatorship-era genocide case in Guatemala is set to be decided beginning on Tuesday as a court rules on whether to launch a trial against 11 former military men facing charges of enforced disappearances and crimes against humanity carried out under the country’s U.S.-backed military regimes.
Human rights defenders are closely monitoring Tuesday’s hearing to see whether the judge will move the case, known as Creompaz, toward justice for hundreds of victims of genocide.
“The Creompaz case is an appeal to all Guatemalans who suffered grave human rights violations during the internal armed conflict to continue breaking the silence, telling the truth about what happened, building our collective memory, and demanding justice,” a group of six human rights organizations representing the families of victims wrote in a statement Monday, noting that Mayan Indigenous people endured the most abuses.
The 11 officers were arrested in January for their involvement in hundreds of forced disappearances, including the massacre of at least 558 Indigenous people near the Creompaz military base in the northern department of Alta Verapaz during the country’s most brutal period in history. Three other officers were also implicated and placed under house arrest.
Public prosecutors are set to present evidence linked to the massacre, including the findings of exhumations that led to the arrest of the dictatorship-era military officials. Forensic investigations uncovered evidence of torture including cutting, beating and chains, Prensa Latina reported.
The charges focus on abuses perpetrated between 1981 and 1988, including the bloody rule of U.S.-backed dictator Efrain Rios Montt, whose regime oversaw the killing of over 1,770 Ixil people, thousands of human rights violations, and the forced displacement of tens of thousands of Indigenous Guatemalans.
Tuesday’s session could be extended up to a week due to the volume of evidence to be presented, Prensa Latina reported.
Former military officials appearing in court Tuesday include former general and brother of President Manuel Benedicto Lucas Garcia, former Interior Minister Byron Barrientos Diaz, and former military intelligence chief Edgar Rolando Hernandez.
The hearing comes after a Guatemalan court reached a landmark verdict in a historic trial for sexual slavery during the civil war that saw two former military officers sentenced to 120 and 240 years in jail for the enforced disappearance of seven men and the enslavement and systematic rape of 11 women.
After decades of systemic impunity as perpetrators of civil war abuses evade justice and continue to hold positions of power, the Creompaz case represents a landmark opportunity for justice for the victims of Guatemala’s brutal 36-year civil war that saw over 200,000 killed and disappeared.