By Este Chep, BTS Lead Cooperant
On October 3rd, Latin America’s largest case of mass forced disappearance was delivered a major setback with the confirmation of Claudette Dominguez as judge, despite six recusal attempts. Her confirmation comes despite repeated attempts to have her removed from the case citing her disregard for victims and survivors. The CREOMPAZ case involves the unearthing of 84 mass graves containing 565 bodies inside a former military base which dates back to the 1980s. Only approximately 150 bodies have been identified, though evidence suggests that the graves contain the remains of people from the Pambach and Rio Negro massacres carried out by the military, as well as the remains of anyone deemed subversive.
The case seeks justice for those disappeared and killed as well as survivors of sexual violence, however, only 29 out of the 152 individual claims against those accused were deemed permisible by the judge. In her dismissal of plaintiffs in the case, Dominguez obstructed the admissibility of gender-based sexual violence committed by the perpetrators. Moreover, she did not accept the military plans of those years to be used as evidence. Such blatant disregard and dismissal of evidence raises questions in regards to her ability to be partial in a case against the military given that her sister works for the military.
This is not the first time she has been criticized for disregarding victims and survivors nor her lack of impartiality. In September, she was successfully removed from the case of the Achi women survivors of sexual violence under the same charges. Similarly, on October 18 she was recused as judge from the Ixil genocide case against Luis Enrique Mendoza. Her affirmation as judge in the CREOMPAZ case however, risks setting a regressive precedent in cases of gender-based sexual violence by significantly limiting the scope of evidence considered admisible for acts committed by ex military and the civil defense patrols they trained to carry out their operations. A total of nine men face charges in this case, one of which continues to be a fugitive at large.
This case is part of a broader pattern of impartiality and injustice in the Guatemalan justice system. We will continue to monitor further developments in this case, as well as support our partners who are striving to achieve legal precedents in the struggle against impunity for crimes against humanity.