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18 army officers responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the armed conflict in Guatemala are arrested

A group of 18 army veterans responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity have been arrested, including Manuel Benedicto Lucas García, former Army head of Joint Chiefs of Staff during the internal armed conflict. The veterans were involved in two investigations by the Public Ministry in respect of forced disappearances and crimes against humanity.

On Wednesday the 6th January 2016 a deployment of the public forces, co-ordinated by the Human Rights Section of the Office of the Prosecutor carried out the arrest of 18 former army officers; one group of 14 were involved in forced disappearances between 1981 and 1986 and the other group were involved in the disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen in September 1981.

The first investigation, as a result of which the Court for High Risk Cases authorised the searches and arrests, dates back to the implementation of the Sánchez Plan in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, on 18th July 1982, when army troops and former patrolmen of the civil self-defence units rushed into the community, torturing and killing the civilian population.

According to the Public Ministry, Benedicto Lucas García as Army Head of Chiefs of Staff had command authority over the commander of the military base where recently 500 skeletal remains were found.

Testimonies of the survivors indicate that the torture of the victims was carried out by the Army Intelligence Section; Byron Barrientos, the minister for Government during the presidency of Alfonso Portillo between 2000 and 2004, worked in this unit at the time.

The Public Ministry's investigation indicates that the arrested officers had responsibility in at least 88 incidents related to the massacres which took place between 1981 and 1986 in the context of the internal armed conflict.

The Attorney-General and Head of the Public Ministry, Thelma Aldana, announced that the arrests were ordered following a sentence of 7,710 years imprisonment which a Court had handed down against five former civil patrolmen in March 2012, in respect of the Sánchez Plan massacre of 18th July 1982.

"The cases we have documented, carried out against members of the civilian population, not combatants, and which included children" is one "of the largest incidents of forced disappearances in Latin America" stated Aldana.

The results of the excavations show that the following were killed:

  • 90 minors
  • 443 adults
  • 3 elderly people
  • and 22 unidentified

The following is a list of the arrested officers:

  • Manuel Benedicto Lucas García.
  • Byron Humberto Barrientos Díaz.
  • Gustavo Alonso Rosales García.
  • José Antonio Vásquez García.
  • Carlos Humberto Rodríguez López.
  • Ismael Segura Abularach.
  • Pablo Roberto Saucedo Mérida.
  • César Augusto Ruiz Morales.
  • Juan Ovalle Salazar.
  • Édgar Rolando Hernández Méndez.
  • Carlos Augusto Garavito Morán.
  • Luis Alberto Paredes Nájera.
  • César Augusto Cabrera Mejía.
  • Raúl Dehesa Oliva.

The officers were detained on remand at the Prison of the Mariscal Zavala Brigade in zone 17; they will be heard before the court presiding over these proceedings on Friday, January 8th.

With reference to the Case of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen and according to the information presented by the investigative agency, on 27th September 1981, the youngest sister of the disappeared, Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen, was arrested in Santa Lucía Utatlán, Sololá, at a military checkpoint.

She was carrying propaganda for political study and discussion and was transferred to the Military Zone "GMLB" in Quetzaltenango, where she was tortured and raped and from where she managed to escape 9 days later.

On 6th October of the same year, three army individuals dressed in civilian clothes, arrived at the house of the Molina Theissen family on 6th avenue 2-35 zone 19, La Florida, and took away Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, the brother of Emma Guadalupe.

The Molina Theissen family filed two appeals of habeas corpus on 11th May and 9th July 1997. As a result of these actions on 7th May 1999 the Supreme Court of Justice granted a special investigative proceeding on behalf of the disappeared youth designating as special investigator the Human Rights Ombudsman.

In the light of those investigations, on 26th April 2004, the State of Guatemala acknowledged its responsibility for these actions before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and on the 4th May of that year, the same Court convicted the State of Guatemala and ordered it to produce the victim, to investigate and duly punish those who were materially and intellectually responsible for these actions.

On the basis of that decision a 10 year investigation was carried out, in the course of which expert opinions were obtained on various issues: military, international humanitarian law, archives, psycho-social aspects and testimonies, corroborated by the documentation of the National Defence Ministry as well as the Judgement of the Inter-American Court for Human Rights and other forms of evidence which led to the arrest of the 4 accused of these acts, these being:

  • Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez
  • Edilberto Letona Linares
  • Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas
  • Manuel Antonio Callejas Callejas

The four face charges for forced disappearance and crimes against humanity, for which offences the Criminal Code provides the punishment of imprisonment for a term of 20 to 40 years

Furthermore, the Public Ministry has requested a preliminary competence hearing in the case of the member of parliament for the National Convergence Front Party (Frente de Convergencia Nacional "FCN"), Edgar Justino Ovalle Maldonado, in respect of a case of forced disappearance and crimes against humanity.

The congressman is a member of the party of the President elect Jimmy Morales and has been accused of having committed human rights violations during the internal armed conflict.

The 14 officers already under arrest are facing charges in the same case as that of Ovalle Maldonado, including, Manuel Benedicto Lucas García, former army head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and brother of the former President Romeo Lucas García.

The officers are being investigated by the Public Ministry in respect of charges of forced disappearances during the years 1981 to 1988.

Ovalle Maldonado is a member of the Association of Military Veterans of Guatemala and worked as one of the party strategists who led Morales to power.

The officer was appointed Deputy Head of the parliamentary party and will be its next General Secretary once Morales takes office as president and resigns his leadership of the party .

He is the among the first on the National List of the FCN and in his Facebook profile he has published various photographs in which he participates with Morales in various activities in the country.

After learning about the request for a preliminary hearing, Ovalle Maldonado denied in Congress that he had participated in forced disappearances or in crimes against humanity.

However, according to declassified documents from the United States, Ovalle Maldonado was an operations officer in the Ixil Task Force from September 1981 to September 1982.

During that year, according to the documents, 77 massacres took place in that region resulting in more than 1,700 indigenous dead and causing that year to be considered one of the bloodiest periods of the conflict.

[Source: Radio Nizkor, Belgium, 07Jan16]

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small logoThis document has been published on 20Jan16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.