On February 26 the Supreme Court of Guatemala handed down a precedent setting verdict in the Sepur Zarco case. Retired army officer Francisco Reyes Giron and former paramilitary fighter Heriberto Valdéz Asij were sentenced to 120 years and 240 years in prison, respectively, for crimes against humanity—including sexual violence, forced disappearances and murder.
The judge ordered that the accused pay reparations to the women of Sepur Zarco and that the State build a school and health clinic in their community. The testimony of the Sepur Zarco women also compelled the judge to designate February 26th as a National Day for Victims of Sex Crimes and Sexual Violence. Furthermore, the court has ordered the government to build a monument as a tribute to Sepur Zarco.
Despite the court order promising monetary compensation, Reyes Giron and Valdéz Asij do not have the finances to pay for the reparations. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that the women of Sepur Zarco will receive this compensation. The prosecution also requested that the women’s stolen lands to be returned to them—as land ownership is essential to survival in the region. However the Supreme Court did not grant the land request.
Despite challenges with the reparations, the Sepur Zarco verdict remains significant. As Rosalina Tuyuc, National Coordinator of the Widows of Guatemala (CONAVIGUA) states, “For the victims, the sentence is powerful because it finally delivered the justice they had long awaited. The verdict returns to them their honour and dignity.”
“Act of gratitude to accompany the brave women of Sepur Zarco”, Mujeres Transformando el Mundo, 24 April 2016.
“Witness To A War Crimes Trial: My Heart Is Sepur Zarco”, Popular Resistance, 31 March 2016.