The Sepur Zarco Case: Sexual Violence and Sexual Slavery during Guatemala’s Armed Conflict

The small settlement of Sepur Zarco in Guatemala was shaken by the assignment of army soldiers in a military outpost constructed in said hamlet in 1982. Sepur Zarco was mostly inhabited by the Maya Q’ueqchi people, who constantly had land ownership conflicts with large landowners in the area. The wealthy landowners sought the army for the protection of their lands. In 1981 and 1982, fifteen men who were Mayan peasant leaders traveled to Guatemala City for advice on how to fight for land titles in their village and were illegally detained and murdered or disappeared by soldiers. The soldiers then proceeded to rape and kidnap eleven of the fifteen men’s wives, as well as burning down their homes and crops, and destroying most of their belongings. These women were then held as slaves by the soldiers and were conveniently relocated right next to the military base in Sepur Zarco.

For twelve hours a day, two to three times a week, the women had to cook and clean for the men. They were also raped every day they worked a shift at the military post. These illicit activities were said to be overseen and approved by former base commander Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Girón, who was found guilty on February 26, 2016 of holding the fifteen women in sexual and domestic slavery, as well as the murder of a woman and her two daughters.

A former regional military commissioner, Heriberto Valdez Asij, was also found guilty of enslaving the women, as well as guilty for the disappearance of seven men. This is the first time a case of wartime sexual abuse is prosecuted in Guatemala, in addition to being the first case of sexual and domestic slavery tried in a national court. Reyes Girón and Valdez Asij were both sentenced to 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity. Reyes Girón was sentenced to an additional 90 years for the triple murder he took part in. Valdez Asij was sentenced to additional 210 years for the enforced disappearance of seven men.

The events that led to the convictions took place during the dictatorship of Efraín Ríos Montt, which lasted from 1982 to 1983. The Guatemalan government, under Ríos Montt’s regime, intended to “eradicate communism” in the country. Mayan villages, whom the dictatorship believed to be weak, uneducated, and, therefore, likely to be swayed to join the communist opposition, were targeted. More than 600 villages were destroyed and more than 200,000 people were killed or disappeared. The United States, at that time under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, supplied military hardware and support to the Ríos Montt regime.

For more information:

La Hora –http://lahora.gt/sepur-zarco-condenan-a-240-y-120-anos-de-prision-a-los-acusados/

Prensa Libre – http://www.prensalibre.com/guatemala/justicia/sepur-zarco—tribunal-dictara-sentencia-esta-tarde

El Periódico – http://elperiodico.com.gt/2016/02/26/pais/las-mujeres-en-sepur-zarco-fueron-violadas-y-tratadas-como-animales/

El Mundo – http://www.elmundo.es/internacional/2016/02/27/56d0f2ac268e3e70288b463e.html

Tele Sur – http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Guatemala-Soldiers-Sentenced-to-240-Years-for-Systematic-Rape-20160226-0030.html

BBC – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-35674893

Brittanica – http://global.britannica.com/biography/Jose-Efrain-Rios-Montt

International Business Times – http://www.ibtimes.com/who-efrain-rios-montt-how-guatemalan-ex-military-ruler-became-first-latin-american-dictator-1273407

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