GUATEMALA: Demanding Justice for Sexual Violence Against Women During Guatemala´s Armed Conflict

Tuesday, May 4, 2010
The Guatemala Times
Central America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

On March 4-5, 2010, at an historic event in Guatemala City, during a session of the Court of Conscience against Sexual Violence committed against women during the armed conflict in Guatemala, indigenous women came forward to give their testimonies of sexual violence committed against them during Guatemala's armed conflict from 1960-1996.

The women could not give their names because of fear and gave evidence behind veils in order to conceal their identities. They came from a variety of indigenous groups, Mam, Qeqchi, Quiche and Ixil .The women gave testimonies of horrific acts of sexual violence including rape, sexual slavery, death threats, torture, forced marriage, forced abortions and forced sterilizations. Women who were pregnant up to 8 months were raped. In some cases the women were forced to marry or live with their abuser. Many of these women also suffered losses of family members at the hands of the armed forces in the context of the armed conflict

Despite the fact that 14 years have passed since the signing of the peace accords which ended Guatemala's 36 year armed conflict, the perpetrators of these most heinous crimes have not been brought to justice. During Guatemala's armed conflict, over 200,000 people died as genocidal acts were committed against the indigenous peoples of Guatemala. Sexual violence was a systemized and widespread practice used by the armed forces and security forces to subdue women, to terrify them and to sow terror throughout the whole population. Indigenous women made up the majority of victims of sexual violence.

The Court of Conscience was established by women's organizations and civil society groups in Guatemala to bring the acts of sexual violence committed during the armed conflict to light and to demand justice for the victims. Present at the Court's hearings were many indigenous women, UN and EU representatives and many civil society organizations. The Court's jury included international experts from Uganda, Japan and Peru, and Juana Mendez, an indigenous woman who was raped by police officers in a police station in Quiche in recent years, after the armed conflict.

Women in Guatemala continue to be subjected to physical, psychological and sexual violence. Since the year 2000, more than 3,800 women and girls (mostly from ages 13 to 36) have been murdered in Guatemala. The perpetrators of these crimes against women enjoy widespread impunity with only 1 to 2% of crimes successfully prosecuted. Trócaire considers Gender-based violence to be a result of gender equality and power imbalances that exist in all societies but which are exacerbated in times of conflict. Trócaire is working to address Gender-based violence through its programmes in Latin America, Africa and Asia as well as at an international level to promote government and institutional responsibility to preventing and responding to Gender based violence.

"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 Concepcion. 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 2 quetzales (about 20 cent) to take the bus home."

Testimony given by one of the witnesses to the Court of Conscience against Sexual Violence committed against women during the armed conflict in Guatemala, Guatemala City, 4-5 March 2010.