sepur zarco

Read more about other days of the trial here.

Sepur Zarco Trial Day 11: “What I lived is real, it is not imagined.”

Guatemala City, Monday, February 15, 2016
By Kristine Johnston

Today, the 14 surviving complainants in the case were present in court which, for me, was a powerful image. They sat behind the prosecution, their faces covered, and could be seen holding and comforting each other during particularly horrific parts of their video testimonies. It struck me as an injustice that the rest of the trial was not translated into Q’eqchi (apart from their testimonies). I was told that it is mandatory for a trial to be translated for the accused, but not for the plaintiff(s), which leaves me doubting further the fairness of the judicial system.

The day started off with a video testimony from one of the 15 female survivors that was entered as pretrial evidence on September 27, 2012. She gave her account of what happened under military rule in the 80s, telling the court of how her husband, Abelardo Coc, was forcefully taken from their home by five soldiers who tied his hands and took him to the village of Santa Lucía. Fifteen days later, the soldiers returned. This was when she began to be sexually abused. She was pregnant at the time of the abuses and noted that three days after they began, she miscarried. When she left, the soldiers burned her home, leaving her with nowhere to go. She noted that every three days she went to the outpost at Sepur Zarco and that the soldiers took turns raping her. Like many of the other women, she was forced to cook for the soldiers. To add to her suffering, she was told by a military commissioner that the army wasn’t responsible for the widows of the war; he said this as he offered to wed her to one of his soldiers. She spent three months at Sepur Zarco before leaving to live in Cobán. Afterwards, the defense lawyers again made complaints about the video testimonies and continued to claim that they were a violation of the right of the defense in an attempt to remove them from evidence.

Next, the court heard from an expert witness who discussed some ballistics about 61 fragments of metal found during an investigation at the Sepur Zarco base. The metal consisted of pieces of rifle cartridges exclusively used by the military during that time. The defense tried to argue that it was impossible to know for sure if the evidence presented actually came from Sepur Zarco, but the expert witness went on to explain the methodology used to both find and analyze the pieces of metal.

Following the expert witness, Doña Carmen Xol’s video testimony was shown. Hers was the third testimony heard on September 27, 2012, the fourth day of testimonies gathered for pretrial evidence. During her testimony, she said, “What I lived is real, it is not imagined.” Like others, she mentioned the 25th of August, 1982 in her testimony. This day was the celebration of Santa Rosa de Lima which is why many of the women remember it well. Her husband, too, was forcefully taken from their home by soldiers. After the kidnapping of her husband, the soldiers told her that she had to stay at the base because they’d already taken her husband and because they now had authority over her because without a husband, she had no one to answer for her. She cooked rice, beans, and tortillas for the soldiers in addition to being forced to clean their uniforms. While she couldn’t recall the exact number of times she was sexually abused at the base, she reported that it had occurred on numerous occasions. “We suffered a lot,” she said, “it was terrible”.

This photo was tweeted by Mujeres Transformando del Mundo, one of the organizations representing the complainants, with the caption “There’s no excuse not to show your solidarity with the courageous and strong women of the Sepur Zarco trial”.

Kristine Johnston is a graduate of St. Francis Xavier University and member of Breaking the Silence. She is currently a volunteer with the New Hope Foundation in Guatemala.

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