Guatemala court convicts paramilitaries over 1982 massacre

News
March 21, 2012

Guatemala court convicts paramilitaries over 1982 massacre

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150

(New York) – Amnesty International said today the sentencing of five Guatemalan men to nearly 8,000 years in prison each for a 1982 massacre is a victory for human rights. The men were convicted for an assault on the village of Plan de Sánchez, where 268 Maya- Achí indigenous people were killed, including children.

“Slowly but surely, justice is beginning to prevail for these horrendous crimes that have hung over Guatemalan society for three decades,” said Sebastian Elgueta, Central America researcher at Amnesty International. “Each new verdict erodes the long-entrenched impunity in the country, and the authorities must continue to ensure that the thousands of victims and their relatives are given access to justice and full reparation as well as the truth about what happened.”

The convicted men formed part of a military-trained civilian patrol that rounded up and killed 268 Maya-Achí indigenous people in the community of Plan de Sánchez in July 1982.

The guilty verdict in a Guatemala City criminal court is the latest in a series of recent rulings dealing with scores of mass killings and other crimes against humanity that occurred in indigenous and rural villages during the country’s 36-year internal armed conflict.

The convicted men – Eusebio Grace, Julián and Mario Acoj, Santos Rosales and Lucas Tecú – face jail terms of 7,710 years each for their role in the assault on Plan de Sánchez.
 
At the time, the five men were members of paramilitary units set up by Guatemala’s armed forces to carry out what officials described as a “scorched earth” military policy.
 
Survivors of the attack – one of the bloodiest in the conflict – told the court how the men raped and tortured scores of villagers before killing them.
 
Early in the morning of July, 18 1982, two mortar grenades were dropped on Plan de Sánchez as rural peasants were making their way to trade at the market in Rabinal. That afternoon, some 60 people in military uniforms arrived brandishing assault rifles and began rounding up the village’s Maya-Achí indigenous inhabitants.

Around 20 girls between the ages of 12 and 20 were abused, raped and murdered. Other children were beaten to death, while some adults were imprisoned in a house before troops fired on them indiscriminately and attacked them with hand-grenades.
 
Some villagers were forced into straw dwellings that were doused with gasoline and set alight, their bodies later dumped into mass graves.   

In addition to the prison sentences – the length of which is symbolic, to reflect the horrendous nature of the crimes against humanity committed – the court ordered Guatemala’s Ministries of Education and Culture to commission documentaries to honor the victims.  
 
Former high-ranking officers, including the de facto head of state at the time of the massacre, now-retired General José Efraín Ríos Montt, are currently facing genocide charges.
 
This Friday will mark 30 years since Ríos Montt took control of Guatemala in a coup d’etat in 1982, staying in power until August 1983, when he too was deposed in a coup. Half of all the documented human rights violations of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict took place in those years.
   
Amnesty International continues to call for an end to impunity for all those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during this period.
 
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom and dignity are denied.

For more information visit www.amnestyusa.org.

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