War crimes

Guatemalan soldiers face sex slavery charges in historic trial

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Indigenous people attend the trial of two army officers accused of keeping 11 indigenous women as sex slaves. (JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

On Monday, more than three decades after the facts, two former Guatemalan military officers will stand trial for their role in raping and enslaving 11 Mayan woman in the country’s bloody civil war in 1982. Former base commander Esteelmer Reyes Girón and former regional military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij face charges of sexual and domestic slavery and forced disappearance, in a historic trial that marks the first time sexual slavery is prosecuted in the actual country where this war crime took place.

The charges against the man are gruesome, as they are accused of having forced the wives of local peasant leaders, who had revolted against their landowners, to report for 12-hour “shifts” at their base in Sepur Zarco where they made them cook, clean and submitted them to systematic rape, often by several soldiers. During the 36-year conflict, rape was systematically used as a weapon of terror, but this is the first time an officer is tried for sexual violence. The victims — many of them now in their 70s or 80s, frail and illiterate and still suffering the consequences of the abuse – spent several years building their case “in an effort to overcome the stigma and break the silence that so often accompanies sexual violence in armed conflict,” Jo-Marie Burt, political science professor at George Mason University  told The Guardian. “By speaking out and seeking justice the women of Sepur Zarco are writing Guatemalan history, helping us all better understand what happened and why. Let’s hope that the justice system is up to the task.”

Read the full story at The Guardian.

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