The conviction of a former Guatemalan soldier involved in the mass killing of villagers in an infamous massacre during the country’s civil war has been welcomed by the UN human rights office, OHCHR.
Spokesperson Liz Throssell told journalists in Geneva on Friday that the ruling against Santos López Alonso – one of only six military personnel to have been convicted - was “another important step” for transitional justice in Guatemala.
“We welcome the ruling this week by a Guatemalan court to convict and sentence a former soldier to 5,130 years in prison for his role in the Dos Erres massacre,” she said, describing it as “one of the most shocking episodes of the country’s long civil war, when more than 200 people were killed in the village of Dos Erres in 1982.
Ms. Throssell added that the court had concluded that the crimes against humanity committed in Dos Erres were part of a larger state policy of the ruling military junta.
According to a UN-backed national rights commission, 200,000 lives were lost amid hundreds of massacres that were carried out in indigenous Maya villages.
State forces and paramilitary groups were responsible for 93 per cent of violations documented, Guatemala's Commission for Historical Clarification found, including 92 per cent of arbitrary executions and 91 per cent of forced disappearances.
“Santos López Alonso, who was a member of an elite force of the Guatemalan military known as the Kaibiles, was found guilty of crimes against humanity and murder in 171 of these cases,” Ms. Throssell said.
The massacre was planned and involved people of all ages, with many women and girls reportedly raped, while children were thrown into the village well.
“The Kaibiles suspected the inhabitants of Dos Erres of sympathizing with left-wing guerrillas, and after carrying out a search of the village for weapons, they proceeded to systematically shoot or bludgeon to death hundreds of men, women and children,” the OHCHR spokesperson explained.
In an appeal to the Guatemalan authorities to continue to investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes committed during the country’s 36-year civil war, Ms. Throssell noted that such trials “have frequently been stalled” by the “malicious use” of injunctions.
“Despite the courageous efforts by victims, lawyers and civil society organizations to ensure justice, truth, reparations and non-repetition, there have been very few prosecutions and convictions, particularly of high-level officials, and few victims have received reparations,” the OHCHR spokesperson said.