Guatemala: UN envoy against sexual violence hails arrest of former top military figure

23 June 2011

A United Nations envoy today welcomed the arrest of a former top Guatemalan military figure accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, saying the arrest sends a strong signal that justice can prevail in the Central American country.

General Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, who served as chief of staff of his country’s armed forces between March 1982 and October 1983, was arrested last week, according to media reports.

General Lopez Fuentes faces accusations that he directed a policy of wide-scale military attacks against civilians, particularly indigenous Mayans, during which entire villages were destroyed and countless women and girls were raped.

Margot Wallström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, issued a statement in which she stressed that ending impunity is essential if a country or society is to come to terms with past abuses against civilians.

Numerous Guatemalans were the victims of human rights violations during the country’s protracted civil war, and the UN helped the Government set up the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in an effort to tackle the problem.

“The apprehension of General Lopez Fuentes sends a strong signal to all perpetrators that conflict-related sexual violence is not acceptable, and that justice will ultimately prevail,” Ms. Wallström said.

“Sexual violence thrives on silence and impunity,” she added. “Women have no rights if those who violate their rights go unpunished.”

The envoy urged Guatemalan authorities to ensure the protection of victims, witnesses, human rights defenders and others throughout any legal action they may take to uphold their rights.

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