GUATEMALA CITY – Five former Guatemalan paramilitaries were brought to justice on Wednesday for raping 36 women belonging to the indigenous Achi group during the Central American country’s decade-long civil war from 1981 to 1985.
The paramilitary Civil Self-Defense Patrols (PACs) were created by the Guatemalan army during the conflict to control the indigenous population. Since the signing of peace agreements in 1996, they have been charged with serious human rights violations.
“The debate will start today, we cannot postpone it,” said judge Yassmin Barrios, who was the a “High risk court” Dedicated to organized crime and corruption cases in which the hearing is taking place. She spoke in response to a motion by one of the defense lawyers to postpone the hearing for another week.
Such courts were created after a UN-backed CICIG anti-corruption commission promoted reforms to investigate organized crime and corruption. CICIG itself was dissolved in 2019 after President Alejandro Giammattei failed to renew his mandate.
Prosecutors told the court that they had produced at least 200 pieces of evidence, including testimony and expert opinions, about the rapes alleged to have taken place in Baja Verapaz, a department north of Guatemala City.
Several human rights groups have hung blankets and flowers in front of the court in solidarity with the Mayan victims.
The five former paramilitaries, along with three others, were arrested in 2018, despite the judge who originally started the case against them dismissed the evidence and released them. One died before he was released. After the authorities arrested the remaining ex-soldiers, two were acquitted.
“Today is a historic day not only for the Achi women of Rabinal (in Baja Verapaz), but also for the thousands of women victims of sexual violence in the armed conflict,” said Virginia Valencia, who represents five of the 36 alleged Victim.
In 2016, two former soldiers were sentenced to 360 years in prison for crimes against humanity, including sexual slavery and murder, after 15 Q’eqchi women of Mayan ancestry brought a case to the country’s highest court.