GUATEMALA: Court of Conscience Against Sexual Violence During the Internal Armed Conflict

Friday, March 5, 2010
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Central America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

March 4-5, 2010, marked a historic moment for women in Guatemala, where for the first time the Court of Conscience against Sexual Violence during the Internal Armed Conflict took place in Guatemala City. The Court of Conscience occurred two years after the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1820 was passed, which urges states to implement mechanisms to end impunity and provide justice for women victims of sexual violence during armed conflicts.

The Court of Conscience opened avenues for women's rights to justice. Indigenous women came forward and gave their testimonies of sexual violence committed against them during Guatemala's armed conflict from 1960-1996. During the 36-year conflict, sexual violence was a massive, systematic, and generalized practice used by the Guatemalan armed forces as part of their counterinsurgency campaigns. The women gave testimonies of horrific acts of sexual violence including rape, sexual slavery, torture, forced pregnancy, forced marriage with the soldiers that raped them, forced sterilizations, forced abortions, and mutilation.[1]

Even though the signing of the Peace Accords took place 14 years ago, the perpetrators of these crimes have not been brought to justice. The Historical Clarification Commission, established after the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, registered 1,465 instances of sexual violence that took place during the conflict but only 285 of these cases were documented in the Guatemalan court system. Sexual Violence was directed against women in 99 percent of cases and 80 percent of victims were indigenous.

Today, women in Guatemala continue to be subjected to physical, psychological, and sexual violence. Since the year 2000, more than 4,708 women and young girls (ages 13 to 36 years old) have been murdered because of their gender. Ninety eight percent of Femicide cases in Guatemala remain in impunity where only 2 percent of crimes are successfully prosecuted.[2]

Despite the fact that the Court of Conscience is nonbinding, it makes a political statement for reparations and urges authorities to bring about justice for cases of violence both from the past and the present. Most importantly, women are given the space to tell their stories, many of which are unknown, so these acts will not be repeated. The women who participated in the tribunal asked for the perpetrator of these crimes to be prosecuted and the acts to be considered “war crimes and crimes against humanity.” [3]

“I am an indigenous woman, from Ixcan, and at that time I was illiterate, like most women in Guatemala. It all happened in 1975, on the 20th June they captured my brother and on the 21st June, my father. I never heard what happened to them. I escaped to the Southern coast to my sister's house and they came to find me there. On 17th September the army took me from my sister's house to Nueva Concepción. They kept me hostage for seven days, with my eyes blindfolded. During those seven days, they interrogated me, tortured me, raped me repeatedly, they gave me electric shocks on the soles of my feet, they kept me hooded... they made me listen over and over again to a recorded voice saying: “You are pregnant with a guerrilla.” It was physical and psychological torture. After those seven days they abandoned me...They gave me two quetzals (about 20 cents) to take the bus home.”[4]

-Testimony given by one of the witnesses of the Court of Conscience.

The first day, nine women gave their testimonies concealed behind a black curtain to hide their identities. The last day, experts gave their opinions to explain the causes, effects, and different forms of sexual violence committed during the armed conflict. At the end of the hearings, the ‘Judges of Conscience' issued a statement later signed by honored witnesses. The statement condemned the Guatemalan state for its role as violator of the rights of women. It also blamed the state's justice institutions for the lack of speedy trails for women, especially indigenous women.

The Court was organized by numerous Guatemalan organizations such as Community Studies and Psychosocial Action Group (ECAP), National Coordinator of Widows of Guatemala (CONAVIGUA), Women Transforming the World (MTM), as well as other civil society groups and international organizations. The Court of Conscience is expected to occur every year in the month of March to commemorate International Women's Day.

Read the Final Pronouncement of the Court of Conscience (Spanish)