They are all over 60 years of age. Decades ago, these women suffered almost daily sexual abuse, sometimes in front of their children, and were forced to work long hours on a military base. Today, a year since a guilty verdict was handed down by the court, they are asking the Guatemalan government to comply.
Isabel Soto Mayedo
“We’re upset and concerned that things aren’t going as we were led to believe in the compensation hearings, which is why we’re asking for what we were promised,” Demesia Yat tells Prensa Latina. This Mayan Q’eqchi grandmother is one of fifteen victims who suffered abuse on the base in the northern region of Polochic.
“We want the government to meet its obligations, which is why we are calling for them to comply, to pay attention to us, to take us seriously, and to understand that what is happening is a serious issue,” she argues.
“Our communities are extremely poor, with palm oil plantations on all sides, but even these don’t offer job opportunities. Our children apply for jobs on palm oil plantations but they’re turned away,” she says.
She asserts that they have not received any type of economic support to date and that they are making significant sacrifices to go on fighting, so that their children and grandchildren do not suffer as they have over the past 35 years.
Yat reiterates indignantly that the accused parties denied all charges brought against them and did not have the resources to comply with the punishments imposed by the court for the crimes they committed while they were part of the troop stationed in the departments of Alta Verapez and Izabal (1982-1983).
“We want to urge the State to comply with the ruling of the court. We want to see with our own eyes that the State is complying, not turning a blind eye, bringing jobs and normality back to the community,” she stresses.
Memory, pain and the present
For these women, who are almost all over 60, it is sad that they will not reap the rewards of a fight that began for them when they survived the murder of their husbands, almost daily sexual violence – sometimes in front of their children – and being forced to work for long hours on the military base.
Some of them died in the three decades that have passed since, from diseases associated with the confrontations, haemorrhages, psychological trauma, and abortions induced by pills or by means of violence that they suffered for months during their captivity.
This is why members of the organisation Alianza Rompiendo el Silencio y la Impunidad (made up of the organisations Mujeres Transformando el Mundo (MTM), Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas (Unamg) and Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial (ECAP)) have collectively chosen to continue supporting them.
They also urged media outlets to monitor the process until justice is served for these women, specifically through the implementation of the compensation measures ordered by the court comprising judges Jassmín Barrios, Patricia Bustamante, and Gerbi Sical.
The ruling of 26 February 2016 by representatives of the highest court in Guatemala confirmed the guilt of Lieutenant Colonel Esteelmer Francisco Reyes and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdés Asii, and also – more importantly – that there was a genocide during the civil war, forced disappearances and sexual slavery.
On the basis of the evidence provided over the course of almost 20 hearings, the former received 120 years in prison for murder and human rights abuses, whereas the latter received 240 years for crimes against humanity and forced disappearances.
According to the lawyer Paula Barrios, of MTM, in legal terms, the Sepur Zarco case is currently at the appeals stage and the appeals process is underway. It will then be heard by the appeals court.
“What we need is a ruling to ensure that the sentence is fully carried out; in other words, that the promised compensation materialises,” she explains, noting that there is ongoing dialogue with government ministers.
“At least we have ensured that each of the government departments shall set forth, as part of their annual planning, concrete actions to fulfil the requirements of the Sepur Zarco grandmothers,” she states.
However, she notes that the State should set out legal provisions to ensure the implementation of the compensation measures granted in this case through the legal process and to close this loophole in our justice system in relation to compensation after legal sentences.
On Sunday, the Ministry for Health and Social Assistance officially opened a mobile clinic in the community, but this is only a temporary solution while they wait for a legal ruling regarding where to build a permanent facility.
Barrios sees this as a “sign of goodwill, of a desire to respond to the community and a step in the right direction, because it responds to the community’s human right to access healthcare.”
“The compensation is presented as being appropriate and transformative, in that it will change the conditions that made it possible for the human rights violations suffered by these women and their families to take place, across the country,” says the director of Ecap, Susana Navarro.
Photos: Pixabay – (Translated by Roz Harvey)