Broken spirits

Former Guatemalan soldiers sentenced to 360 years for sexual enslavement of women

Victims of sexual abuse raise their arms in celebration in a courtroom in Guatemala City. (JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

On Friday, the high-risk court in Guatemala City found two former Guatemalan soldiers, base commander Esteelmer Reyes Girón and paramilitary Heriberto Valdez Asij, guilty of crimes against humanity, sentencing them to a total of 360 years for crimes that include the sexual enslavement of women. On August 25, 1982, during the Santa Rosa de Lima festival, soldiers stationed at Sepur Zarco captured local Q’eqchi’ men for daring to request their land rights, and then ordered the Q’eqchi’ women from surrounding communities to report to the base to cook and wash clothes for the men. Over the next six years, the soldiers would repeatedly rape the women, who would be forced to serve three-day “shifts” for a period of four to 10 months. Describing the impact of these crimes on the women of their community, the Q’eqchi use the term muxuk, a word that refers to a woman whose “social and spiritual world was destroyed and broken in all of the areas of her life.”

The Sepur Zarco trial verdict sets a precedent for treating domestic and sexual slavery as war crimes and builds a standard of proof based on the testimony of survivors, an important legal hurdle in cases where events occurred a long time ago. This could have an impact elsewhere in Latin America, including Peru and Columbia, where other legal proceedings are at work to find justice for women who suffered sexual violence during armed internal conflicts.

Read the full story at The Guardian.

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