sepur zarco

Read reports from the other days of the Sepur Zarco trial here.

Guatemala City
February 7, 2016
By Fabienne Doiron

The court only heard two witnesses on Friday: the video declaration of one of the complainants in the case and the two-hour long declaration of a protected witness who was testifying via teleconference from an undisclosed location. The latter was perhaps one of the most important testimonies yet for the prosecution.

Women listen on with their faces covered to the testimonies presented to the court. Photo: CMI Guatemala

Women listen on with their faces covered to the testimonies presented to the court. Photo: CMI Guatemala

The witness appeared on the screens that had been set up in the courtroom wearing a hat and with most of his face covered with a piece of cloth, sitting beside a judge who participated in the process to ensure that the witness was testifying of his own free will and without having been coerced. The witness is a former soldier who was forcibly recruited into the Guatemalan Army in November 1982 and who was posted to the Sepur Zarco military base for a number of months starting in late 1983. He explained that Sepur Zarco was not, as has been previously believed, a “recreational” base but was rather a “combat outpost” (“puesto de avance de combate”) from which groups of soldiers left to patrol the mountains and nearby communities for periods of up to two weeks at a time.

This witness testified to having seen Reyes Girón at Sepur Zarco in December 1983 when the troops to which the witness belonged were sent in to relieve Reyes Girón’s troops. In addition to identifying the accused in the courtroom and placing him at Sepur Zarco—and, importantly, in command of the base—at the time when the crimes were committed, the protected witness also corroborated information provided by other eyewitnesses in the case, including details about troop movements and uniforms, a description of the base and its facilities, the military zones to which the soldiers stationed at Sepur Zarco belonged, and the existence of an improvised base at Finca Tinajas. He also spoke with much detail of the abuses that had been committed at Sepur Zarco, some of which he witnessed—such as finding villagers who had been left for dead at the bottom of a pit in which they were being held—and others that he was told of by the villagers once in Sepur Zarco.

Until now, most of Reyes Girón’s lawyers’ questions to witnesses have revolved around times, dates, and distances—which, in addition to trying to find inconsistencies in witnesses’ testimony, would seem to point to a defense based on arguing that the accused wasn’t at Sepur Zarco or in charge of the base when these crimes were committed. Friday’s testimony from this protected witness will make this strategy much hard to sustain.

Fabienne Doiron has extensive experience working and conducting field research in Guatemala for the past 12 years and is a doctoral candidate in Gender, Feminist, and Women’s Studies at York University. She is a research associate with the Center for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC) and the Centre for Feminist Studies. Fabienne is currently working with Professor Alison Crosby on research focused on reparations for women survivors of sexual violence during the Guatemalan armed conflict. She is a former international human rights accompanier in Guatemala and member of the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network.

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