(Guatemala City, Guatemala)—February 24, 2016.
Nobel peace laureates Rigoberta Menchú Tum and Jody Williams today called the Sepur Zarco trial a “victory for all sexual violence survivors worldwide” as they marched in support of the 15 Mayan women who are accusing two military officers of sexual slavery and other crimes committed in 1982 during the US-backed internal armed conflict in Guatemala. The resulting landmark trial, which started on February 1, marks the first time in Latin America where a case focussing on sexual violence during armed conflict and under military dictatorships is being prosecuted domestically.
“These 15 women bravely told their stories to ensure that future generations of Guatemalans will have access to justice,” says Jody Williams, chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative. “Around the world, women are watching because wars are still being fought on women’s bodies. This case is an important step in ending the nearly complete impunity for such horrific crimes.”
The trial is the result of decades of organizing by the women of Sepur Zarco and a coalition of Guatemalan women’s organizations, Alianza Rompiendo el Silencio y la Impunidad (the Alliance to Break the Silence and Impunity). This is emblematic of the struggles of the Mayan people still seeking justice decades after the end of the war.
In 1999 a U.N.-backed Truth Commission report found that the Guatemalan military systematically used rape as a weapon of terror during the decades-long war, but this is the first time any individual officers have faced trial related to these crimes. The women of Sepur Zarco, now in their 50s and 60s, say that they were forced into sexual slavery for six months. They were required to report for 12-hour shifts, during which soldiers forced them to clean, cook and submit to routine gang rapes.
“Violence against women—particularly sexual violence—is still being used as a tool against indigenous women in Guatemala and all over Latin America,” says Rigoberta Menchú Tum. “When women do report the crime of sexual violence, they are called liars. A victory in this case will show the world that these women are not only telling the truth but are also bravely defending human rights.”
“This case not only seeks justice for the women survivors of Sepur Zarco, but hopes to break the cycle of impunity around crimes of sexual violence,” says Luz Méndez, board member of the national Union of Guatemalan Women, which is part of the Alliance to Break the Silence and Impunity. “We have used strategic litigation in this case to make larger changes in a justice system that systematically denies women full access to justice. To do this, we are using international standards that give important weight to the testimonies of women victims. “
Williams noted that all Guatemalans seeking justice and true democracy should feel pride in this case, and other recent seminal cases such as that against former President General Efraín Ríos Montt and the case of the massacre at the Spanish Embassy in 1980.
For more information, please contact:
Director, Media & Communications, Nobel Women’s Initiative
The Nobel Women’s Initiative was established in 2006, and is led by Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman and Mairead Maguire. The Nobel Women’s Initiative uses the prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize and of courageous women peace laureates to magnify the power and visibility of women working in countries around the world for peace, justice and equality.