“In the garrison they had rooms where they would rape us; sometimes there were three, four or five soldiers,” Rosa Pérez*, one of the women used by the Guatemalan army as a sex slave during this country’s civil war, testified in court.
With her face covered, and with the support of a psychologist and a translator, a crying Pérez told a court hearing this week that members of the army kidnapped her husband and turned her into a sex slave and servant in the Sepur Zarco military garrison in the municipality of El Estor in the northeastern province of Izabal.
She and 14 other Q’eqchi Maya Indian women who were subjected to sexual and labour slavery between 1982 and 1986 testified at a preliminary hearing held this week in a court in the Guatemalan capital.
Charges have been brought against 37 members of the military in the case.The courtroom events are simultaneously an example of how far Guatemala has come since the end of the country's civil war - sex slaves held by the military were able to tell their stories openly in a Guatemalan court.
But it also demonstrates how far they still have to go - the immensity of the violence perpetrated by the Guatemalan military will never be satisfactorily dealt with - and the denial that some still possess about the magnitude of the repression.
As the women testified, former army reserves sergeant Ricardo Méndez Ruiz admitted that “the army committed abuses during the conflict,” but said “the guerrillas did too.”
He argued that “justice should be the same for everyone.”
In 2011, Méndez Ruiz, a businessman, brought legal action against 26 people for his 1982 kidnapping by left-wing guerrilla groups. Today he is a spokesman for the defence of the military personnel accused of civil war-era human rights violations.I am open to prosecuting former guerrillas for human rights violations committed during the war but I wouldn't want their prosecutions to distract from the overwhelming responsibility of the state and its security forces. There's just no comparison.
Now I have a question. What do people want from the United States government? The US cut off most military aid to Guatemala over thirty years ago. President Clinton apologized for US support fifteen years ago. The US has begun to arrest and extradite Guatemalan officials alleged to have participated in some of that country's worst massacres. The US has also made available many documents from that time.
I imagine that more arrests of human rights violators would be welcomed as would the release of additional declassified information. Are we looking for the prosecutions of US officials? (If so, I am wondering who but that's besides the point.) Reparations?