Taken January 4th in front of the Supreme Court of Justice during a ceremony and press conference for the commencement of the trial Photo Credits: Este Chep

Written by Lisa and Laura

Thursday, January 6th, 2022

The third day of trial continued with the presentation of the testimony of expert witnesses. During the first half of the day, two experts testified, detailing the broader social and historical context in which the crimes against humanity were committed.

The first expert, Fernando Suazo, a Spanish priest who worked in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz delivered an ethical-social report detailing the internal norms and values of the military. His report was compiled through a survey of other expert investigations and 20 interviews with former soldiers. He explained how they recruited young people to participate in the war and act as instruments of punishment against their own communities and families. The process of training the civil patrol units involved cruel, degrading, and misogynist tactics. As a result, there was systematic sexual aggression, sexual violence against women including rape, and massive violations of human rights by the army and paramilitary including pillaging, vandalism, and massacres. Reports estimate that over 5000 people were killed in less than 3 years in Rabinal. 

Rabinal was never considered a front line of the war but communities were heavily organized with the Committee for Peasant Unity (Comité de Unidad Campesina – CUC). As a result of deep-seated racism, the Guatemalan state hated the “Indio-rebelde”, a racist term for rebellious Indigenous People, and took advantage of community conflict around issues such as land to undermine their cohesive social fabric. 

Adriana María Benjuma, a Colombian lawyer, delivered the second expert testimony of the day. She addressed the International Human Rights and Criminal Law implications with a focus on sexual violence. 

Expert witness Adriana Benjumea testifying in court Photo Credits: Verdad y Justicia

This report explained that the Guatemalan state has clear international obligations to investigate sexual violence against women committed during the Internal Armed Conflict (IAC) by both soldiers and civilians when it is used as a weapon of war. This responsibility is important for the guarantee of non-repetition and reparations for victims. It is also important to recognize that the sexual violence was not collateral damage, it was a methodic strategy of war and part of a policy of domination against the bodies of women. As such, it constitutes a crime against humanity. 

She addressed the defense’s strategy to point out inconsistencies in survivors’ testimonies by explaining that any variability in their testimony does not diminish the validity of their story. Furthermore, asking women to remember dates, details, or undergo gynecological exams from traumatic events in the past is discriminatory and re-victimizing. In fact, internationally the verbal testimony of survivors is considered sufficient evidence to avoid the further invasion of womens’ bodily integrity.

In the afternoon, former colonel for the Peruvian army, Kelver Alberto Pino gave expert testimony on the Guatemalan military, citing his experience as a former counter-insurgency official and sub-director of intelligence of the Peruvian state. He reiterated that sexual violence during the IAC was reoccurring and systematic in order to control and humiliate the victims. He explained that the influence of the United States’ National Security Doctrine throughout Latin America was pervasive. Its impact on the Guatemalan military was at nearly every level: commissioners, down to the civil patrols focused on the “internal enemy”’- anyone who wanted to break from the established social order. 

Expert witness Fernando Suazo testifies in court on January 6th Photo Credits: Verdad y Justicia

Colonel Pino also addressed the chain of command within the Guatemalan military and how a lack of oversight and will to prohibit and impede acts of violence in communities led to the sexual violence experienced by the plaintiffs in the case and thousands of women in Guatemala. The military commissioners, which were created from army reserves but were later expanded to community members with power in communities, acted in total impunity and to their own personal benefit, with the institutional support of the Guatemalan army. The civil patrols were integrated into the system of controlling the territory as they themselves were from the communities and had on the ground knowledge useful for the military in the area. They were trained by the army in shooting, patrols, basic interrogation techniques, and registration. They were used to obtain information and applied the concept of taking the water away from the fish (in order to suppress the guerrilla by suppressing the Indigenous communities).

Tomorrow will only be a half-day of hearings, continuing with expert testimony.

Read the report back for day 2 here.

Read the report back for day 4 here.