Article: Sepur Zarco women lift impunity for sexual violence

The Women of Sepur Zarco

by Laura Cools & Brisna Caxaj, Impunity Watch

During the Guatemalan civil war (1960-1996), in the military base of Sepur Zarco, 15 indigenous q’eqchi’ women were forced to clean the soldiers’ clothes, cook, and serve them without pay, while being subjected to physical and sexual abuse for months or sometimes years on end, receiving anti-contraceptive pills and injections to prevent pregnancies.

This week, on the occasion of the 2nd anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, we gain inspiration from the Sepur Zarco women whose courage and determination culminated in the first ever condemnation by a Guatemalan court recognizing in 2016 wartime sexual violence and sexual and domestic slavery as crimes against humanity.

“The verdict has been obtained, justice has been achieved;
sadness is no longer.”

– Demecia Yat, President of the Jalok U Collective

Judicial processes: victims at the forefront

Breaking with tradition, whereby perpetrators are at the core of criminal proceedings and victims merely at the service of their conviction, the Sepur Zarco women undertook to make the process their own. In 2014, they organised to establish the Jalok U Collective and became plaintiffs in the case so they could claim justice, moving beyond victimhood.

The indigenous women participated in all phases of the trial, before a Western system functioning in Spanish, and were involved in a continuous dialogue with the Alliance Breaking the Silence and Impunity, composed of the civil society organisations ECAP, MTM and UNAMG which accompanied them, the latter two as co-plaintiffs.

Currently, the women’s leadership inspires other female victims of the armed conflict to pursue their own quest for justice. Their efforts thus highlight the significant potential of victim participation in judicial processes and strategic litigation to instigate both individual and broader societal transformation.

Read the entire article. 

A new beginning!

Co-driectors Dania and RobIt is with tremendous pleasure that we announce the inauguration of our organization, the Human Rights Defenders Project! Our passion and purpose is to serve and support human rights defenders in Guatemala. We hope that you will join us and help us to build this dream together.

¡Con gran placer anunciamos la inauguración de nuestra organización, The Human Rights Defenders Project! Nuestra pasión y propósito es servir y apoyar a defensoras y defensores de los derechos humanos de Guatemala. ¡Esperamos que ustedes se nos unan para construir este sueño juntos!

– Dania Rodríguez & Rob Mercatante –

Council stands with human rights defenders

Michel Forst - UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

From The International Service for Human Rights:

The Human Rights Council has united to adopt a consensus resolution on the protection of human rights defenders. The resolution, extending the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur, comes at a time when the work of defenders has never been more important nor more threatened.

The UN Human Rights Council – the world’s peak human rights body – has today adopted a resolution which affirms the vital and legitimate work of human rights defenders and extends the mandate of a UN expert tasked to support and protect them.

‘Through this resolution the Council has sent an important signal that human rights work is legitimate, and that human rights defenders must be respected and protected by States and non-state actors,’ said ISHR’s Director of Human Rights Council Advocacy, Michael Ineichen.

Source: Council unites to stand with human rights defenders | ISHR

Guatemala high court lifts immunity of presidential adviser

Finally, some positive news from Guatemala:

Guatemala’s Supreme Court on Wednesday granted a request by prosecutors to lift the immunity of Edgar Justino Ovalle, a lawmaker and adviser to President Jimmy Morales.

Ovalle has been linked to the kidnapping of multiple people in 1983 and 1984, when he was second in command of a military zone in Coban, north of Guatemala City. The victims were later killed and buried in clandestine graves on a military base. More than 500 human remains have been found in the area.

Aura Elena Farfan, president of the Association of Detained and Disappeared Family Members of Guatemala, praised Wednesday’s ruling.

“For us as relatives, it is encouraging,” said Farfan, who is a plaintiff in the case. “It gives us hope and strength and we hope due process is followed.”

Read the article: Guatemala high court lifts immunity of presidential adviser | News OK