Trial Begins Feb. 1 in Historic Sepur Zarco Sexual Slavery Case

After 30 years of impunity, the case of sexual and domestic slavery at the Sepur Zarco military outpost will finally be heard in a court of law on Monday, February 1. This is a landmark case — the first time a domestic court has heard a case on wartime sexual slavery.

GHRC will be observing the trial and you can follow progress via our live tweets by following @GHRCUSA. There should be a link to a live stream available; see GHRC’s facebook and twitter for updates on Monday.

The Sepur Zarco case is the result of extensive work by three Guatemalan organizations that form the Alliance for Breaking the Silence and Ending Impunity, which worked with women victims in the region for years to build the case and provide psycosocial support to the women. A criminal suit was filed in Guatemalan courts on September 30, 2011.

Women recount egregious violations. The case documents how, for varying periods of time between 1982 to 1988, Q’eqchi’ women suffered repeated sexual violence and domestic slavery at the Sepur Zarco outpost, at the border between Izabal and Alta Verapaz. The 15 women who came forward to testify in the case described how they were targeted because their husbands had been active in a local land rights initiative, and had been disappeared by the military, leaving the women alone and exposed. They were raped, threatened, and their goods and houses destroyed. Many were then forcibly displaced to live just outside the outpost and forced by the military officers and soldiers to attend “shifts,” during which they cooked, washed the soldiers’ clothing, and did other domestic chores for those stationed at Sepur Zarco. Each time, the women were repeatedly raped, threatened, and even forced to take contraceptive medication.

In this moving video by Women Transforming the World (MTM), the women of Sepur Zarco tell their stories and we see footage from earlier stages of the case.

A few escaped with their children into the mountains, where they hid for years trying to survive. During this time they hardly had any access to food, had no shelter, and were constantly fleeing from attacks from soldiers and Civil Defense Patrols. Under these inhumane conditions many children died from starvation and disease.

The path to justice. The case has moved forward relatively quickly, given the breadth of events that occurred, and the large number of high-level military officials who are implicated directly or through chain of command.

On June 14, 2014 two suspects – retired Lieutenant Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Giron and Heriberto Valdez Asij – were arrested. Reyes Giron, the Second Lieutenant in charge of the Sepur Zarco outpost, is being charged with the murder of a woman and her two children. Valdez Asij was one of the military commissioners for the area, and is being charged with the enforced disappearance of 6 of the plaintiffs’ husbands. Both of them are accused of crimes against humanity and of perpetrating the servitude and sexual violence of the plaintiffs.

Many of you learned about the case this past April when GHRC accompanied Gabriela Rivera – one of the lawyers with Women Transforming the World (MTM) – on a speaking tour in Oregon and Washington, DC.

Join us again on Monday – and throughout the trial – as we stand in solidarity with the women from Sepur Zarco by watching the livestream, tweeting, and sharing updates with our communities and the media.

Additional Resources:

Follow the Sepur Zarco case on Twitter with #‎SepurZarco and @GHRCUSA

Listen to a recent interview on the case with Paula Barrios and Jennifer Bravo of MTM (Spanish)

For more background on the case, see GHRC’s case page in English or the Alliance’s website and Facebook page

For news regarding other trials against former Guatemalan military officials, read this article by the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA).

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