DRAFTED BY: Ashly Bloxon
GUATEMALA.— A Guatemalan court has sentenced four former soldiers to more than 6,000 years each in prison for their role in the massacre of over 200 men, women and children of the village Dos Erres, during the country’s violent civil war.
They are the first former soldiers to be convicted for human-rights abuses in Guatemala.
The length of the sentences is largely symbolic since under Guatemalan law the maximum time a convict can serve is 50 years. The sentences for Manuel Pop Sun, Reyes Collin Gualip and Daniel Martinez include thirty years for each death, plus an additional thirty years for crimes against humanity.
The trial was one of Guatemala’s first against dictatorship-era soldiers. Family members and activists hope it will set a new precedent for future legal action.
Aura Elena Farfan, director of the Association for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared, said, “This sentence we heard today is only the beginning.”
Carlos Antonio Carias Lopez, Reyes Collin Guali, Daniel Martinez Mendez and Manuel Pop Sun were convicted of crimes against humanity for their role in 201 of the killings that occurred during the massacre at the village of Dos Erres in 1982.
The four accused were members of a special unit of the Guatemalan military, the Kaibiles. Over a period of three days, the Kaibiles interrogated and then brutally killed villagers, including children, women and the elderly. Until now, no one had stood trial for the massacre.
In the 1990s the remains of 171 villagers were recovered from a well in the community, nearly 67 children under the age of 12 were among the dead.
The United Nations documented a total of nearly 669 massacres in Guatemala during the nation’s 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996.
More than 20 witnesses testified during the trial, including villagers, survivors and former members of the military.
Throughout the trial survivors described what they witnessed during the massacre at Dos Erres, several villagers testified about the disappearance of their family members.
The men reportedly raped and killed women and girls, and banished hundreds of people from the community, according to the filings. The officers shot and bludgeoned many of the villagers to death. Witnesses testified that the villagers were tortured and robbed by the soldiers as part of an effort to eliminate communities supporting insurgent groups.
Just outside the court, survivors of the massacre cheered and cried when the sentences were announced, spelling the word “justice” on the ground with the rose petals.
“We waited many years for justice,” said survivor Raul de Jesus Gomez.