“A huge step.” Guatemalan relatives lose hope of justice | Court news

Guatemala, Guatemala – Marcia Mendes never stopped searching for her sister.

Now, decades after the disappearance of Luz Heidi by the Guatemalan military, justice may be on the horizon after a Guatemalan judge ordered a trial this month for crimes committed in the 1980s.

“This is a huge step forward for us,” Mendes told Al Aze Azira after a court hearing near the Guatemalan courthouse last week.

Luz Haydee Mendez Calderon was arrested and disappeared in 1984 45,000 people disappeared During the civil war in Guatemala. Some 200,000 people were killed in the 1960-1996 armed conflict.

Mendes Calderon was then Secretary of State for International Relations for the Guatemalan Labor Party, which was ousted after a US-backed coup in 1954 and became one of the armed groups involved in the clash with the 36-year-old army. in:

She was also the mother of two children. During the abduction, his nine-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted and held together with her younger brother for several days. The children reappeared, but their mother never did.

Leaked documents in 1999 fueled the family’s search for truth.

Luz Heidi Mendes Calderon was arrested and disappeared in 1984, and one in 45,000 people went missing during the Guatemalan civil war. [Sandra Cuffe/Al Jazeera]

The Diario Militar, or Death Squad Diary, documented the abductions, torture, disappearances, and executions of 183 people between 1983 and 1985, including Mendes Calderon. Belonging, photo, date of abduction և location և other key details.

On June 9, a Guatemalan judge ordered six former military officers to stand trial for their role in the death squad’s diary. The move was marked by relatives of the victims who repeated the repatriation of their loved ones’ bodies and returned them.

“It seemed impossible”

Most, but not all, of the victims recorded in the death squad diary were members of destructive groups, supporters, student movement organizers, trade union leaders, writers, and other dissidents. Some were just children.

According to the document, in most cases, the victims were held for weeks and then killed. So far, however, the remains of only eight victims of the Death Squad diary have been exhumed, including six found in secret graves at a former military base 70 km west of the capital Guatemala City.

All six defendants were charged with crimes against humanity, and five of them with enforced disappearance. They are all charged with murder, attempted murder, or both. The charges relate to 20 individual victims based on eyewitness accounts and documents collected over more than two decades.

“Winning this fight in almost 40 years is a success,” Mendes said after the judge’s decision. “It seemed impossible to us for so many years.”

Marcia Mendes (center inside) մյուս Other relatives of victims of enforced disappearance in Guatemala pose. “Where are they?” Poster. [Sandra Cuffe/Al Jazeera]

Uth wisdom committee

In 1999, the UN-backed Truth Commission concluded that Guatemalan Army բանակ paramilitaries were responsible for more than 90 percent of the atrocities committed during the civil war. More than 80 percent of Victims were indigenous Mayan civilians, many of whom were killed in more than 600 documented massacres.

The Truth Intelligence Commission concluded that state actors had committed acts of genocide, after which the domestic tribunals agreed to make decisions. High-ranking military officials are currently awaiting trial for genocide, enforced disappearances, and other crimes against humanity, mostly in indigenous rural areas.

In contrast, most of the victims of the death squad diary were residents of Guatemala City. According to the prosecution, the city operations were coordinated by the military intelligence, which was connected with the high command of the President.

“It was a systematic policy that continued the burning policy of the country in the countryside,” said Francisco Sanchez, who was nine years old when Aunt Mendes Calderon was abducted and disappeared.

“I feel privileged because they rarely manage to do that [into the courts]”This is 183 out of 45,000 people,” he said in a courtyard near the courthouse on Wednesday, where he and others lined the stairs with photos of the “Death Squad Diary” victims.

After the 1996 Peace Accords, Sanchez և other children, nephews of the missing և nephews formed the HIJOS team to continue the struggle for justice for generations to come. They raised their loudspeakers to set off a fireworks display in the courtroom on Wednesday and set off fireworks when Judge Miguel Գngel Galves read out the indictment.

The next day, Galves arrested the six defendants, ordering them to remain in custody pending trial. Galves gave prosecutors three months to continue the investigation, and scheduled a mediation hearing in September.

The others were arrested

The six former military officers will probably not be the only defendants in the case.

Eleven former military and police officers were arrested on May 27, and a twelfth was arrested as he appeared in court. The six who had their preliminary hearings will stand trial, according to Galves’ June 9 resolution.

Preliminary hearings of the other six former officers arrested on May 27 are expected to decide whether their trial will continue. Some of the other six are in medical facilities, while others have been arrested in other parts of the country and have not been transported to the capital in time for preliminary hearings.

“It came as a surprise to us,” said Antonio Rustrian, whose uncle Manuel Ismail Salanich Cikil was forcibly disappeared, was reported in the Death Squad Diary. “It was very symbolic for me, because the day of the arrest was the anniversary of my grandfather’s death,” he told Al aze Azira outside the courthouse.

Guatemala’s missing relatives have struggled for decades to find answers [Sandra Cuffe/Al Jazeera]

Grandpa Rustrian, who died of natural causes in 2014, dedicated 30 years of his life to the movement for truth and justice. Shortly after his son’s disappearance, he founded the Mutual Support Group (GAM) and later joined the Guatemalan Association of Relatives of Missing Persons (FAMDEGUA).

“The struggle and the history [have] “I have always been part of my family,” said Rustrian, 25, who was born more than a decade after his uncle went missing. “It left a lasting mark on me from a young age.”

Salanich Chiguel was 18 when he and three other young men, all of whom were becoming teachers, were forcibly disappeared in 1984. Before taking him, Salanich was abducted by electric shocks in front of his relatives. They also tortured his younger brother by the family, beating his father and uncle.

“The lawsuits that are going on are important because they reveal how the state has acted with great cruelty. “History must be made known, արդար there must be justice so that it does not happen again,” said RISTRIA, a member of HIJOS.

Some setbacks

But groups of war veterans, some right-wing politicians, continue to deny the story.

When retired officers were arrested last month in connection with the “Death Squad Diary” case, Congress Human Rights Committee Chairman Alvaro Arzu tweeted his support for the men, calling them “war heroes” and saying “they defend the country’s sovereignty, save us from communism.” : »

Less than two weeks later, nine lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban the prosecution of crimes committed directly or indirectly by anyone related to armed conflict. The bill will have retroactive effect, freeing convicted former members of the paramilitary force and others awaiting trial.

A similar amnesty bill, proposed in 2017, has sparked months of protests and international condemnation since it passed its first reading in Congress in 2019. The Constitutional Court finally ruled on the bill and decided to put it on a shelf.

In 2019, in the city of Guatemala, a woman walks in front of a wall with pictures of people missing during the Guatemalan civil war. [File: Saul Martinez/Reuters]

If the new bill is made progress, it will undoubtedly turn into protests led by the natives – survivors of court challenges – relatives of the victims. The Guatemalan government has not commented on the new amnesty proposal.

So far, however, many groups have focused on the progress of the Death Squad diary. “Finally we see the result of what we have done,” Mendes said, holding a photo of his sister on a plaque around his neck.

“We are both sad and happy,” he said, adding that many of the victims’ parents had died before they could see their missing children’s cases in court. “We cried a lot,” said Mendes, “from joy, fury, all kinds of emotions.”

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