Nobel Women’s Initiative joins with Indigenous women in Guatemala in welcoming the recent court ruling that found ex-paramilitaries guilty of crimes against humanity for rape and sexual violence that took place in the early 1980s.
Last week, a Guatemalan court ruled that during the decades-long conflict in the country Indigenous Maya Achi women faced domestic slavery, sexual violence and rape. Five former members of a paramilitary group were sentenced to 30 years each in prison.
An estimated 200,000 people were killed in the civil war, with 45,000 disappeared. Indigenous Maya civilians were overwhelmingly targeted and countless Mayan women and girls were raped. The conflict, from 1960 to 1996, saw the Guatemalan military fighting leftist forces.
The 36 women plaintiffs worked for years to have their voices heard and for justice to finally be carried out.
The court decision came after 11 years of organizing, gathering evidence, and repeated attempts to have their testimonies heard. The tribunal pointed to “the importance of the testimonies of the women” in ruling that sexual violence was systematic and was used as a weapon of war.
This ruling comes six years after another pivotal case found two former Guatemalan military officers guilty of rape and enslavement of Indigenous women in Sepur Zarco.
Sexual violence in war is not “collateral damage”, rather it is used to systematically terrorize communities and achieve military ends. It is a war crime. Sexual violence as warfare needs to end.
Cases of sexual violence must be investigated. The testimonies of survivors must be heard. And those responsible must be held to account.
Thirty-six courageous women worked to ensure that that happened for the Maya Achi in Guatemala. We stand with them and applaud their long-awaited court victory as a key step towards justice.
Guatemala: Indigenous women celebrate ruling on sexual violence, Al Jazeera, 25 January, 2022.