Prosecuting past crimes provides hope to survivors in Guatemala – UN envoy

12 April 2013

A senior United Nations official today welcomed the efforts of Guatemalan authorities to investigate crimes of sexual violence that occurred during the country's 36-year internal conflict, and urged authorities to ensure a fair trail and protections for the witnesses and others involved.

“Today Guatemala is demonstrating its commitment to the rule of law and a peaceful future by continuing to confront its violent past. I urge the authorities to guarantee a fair trial and ensure the protection of victims, witnesses, human rights defenders, and law officials,” the Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, said in a statement.

“Justice in Guatemala has been delayed for so many, but it must not be denied,” she added about the potential crimes which ocurred during the conflict between 1960 and 1996.

The investigations stem from ongoing judicial proceedings against former president Efraín Ríos Montt and former intelligence chief José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, who stand accused of committing genocide and crimes against humanity for their roles in Guatemala's conflict. A reported 200,000 people were killed or had disappeared during the conflict.

These judicial proceedings “give hope to the thousands of victims who suffered,” Ms. Bangura said. “Sexual violence must never be treated as an inevitable part of armed conflict, but as the internationally recognized crime it is.”

Other senior officials have also praised the legal proceedings, including High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who called the trial “historic.”

During the conflict, Guatemala became the theatre for numerous displays of brutality which were ultimately catalogued and revealed by the UN-backed Historical Clarification Commission of Guatemala in its report on the war.

At a press conference announcing the release of the report at UN Headquarters in 1999, two members of the Commission, Christian Tomuschat of Germany and Otilia Lux de Cotí of Guatemala, described the “atrocious nature” of some of the massacres committed by Government forces against ethnic enclaves during the conflict.

In particular, they noted the Government's “scorched earth” policy which led to the destruction of entire villages and the murders of all their inhabitants, including women, children, babies and elderly people. The two experts also stated that pregnant women and babies had been victimized with “particular brutality.”

In her statement today, Ms. Bangura also praised the survivors of sexual violence for “their bravery in coming forward to explain what they have suffered” and whose testimonies will help ensure that “sexual violence crimes do not remain hidden in silence and impunity.”

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