Read other report backs from the Sepur Zarco Trial here.
Day 4 – I had never felt that kind of fear before
February 6, 2016
By Fabienne Doiron
The fourth day of hearings in the Sepur Zarco trial for sexual violence and sexual and domestic slavery started on Thursday morning with the testimony of doña Julia, a Q’eqchi’ woman in her 70s who entered courtroom wearing a shawl around her head, in a similar fashion to those worn by the complainants sitting behind the prosecution table. These women are attempting to protect their privacy by hide their faces from the public and its cameras (the judges can still see them) because of the fear they have carried over thirty years now. While there are two men facing trial for the abuses they suffered, many more undeniably participated in these crimes, which were part of a much broader campaign of genocidal violence carried out by the Guatemala Army throughout the indigenous highlands. By bringing this case to trial, complainants and witnesses are chipping away at decades of impunity that have protected powerful people—both nationally and in their local communities. Doña Julia made her way to the witnesses’ table slowly where she sat beside an interpreter through whom she told the court her story. She is the mother of Dominga Coc, the woman that several witnesses this week mentioned having seen being brought into the Sepur Zarco base along with her two young daughters.
Dominga, her husband Santiago, and their two daughters had been taken by the soldiers not long after leaving their home in El Manguito. While her son-in-law returned some days later, having been beaten and tortured so badly that she didn’t think he would survive, she never saw her daughter and granddaughters again. Her son-in-law told her that he didn’t know what had happened to his wife and daughters since they were separated after arriving at the Sepur Zarco base when he was taken to Finca Pataxte. There, he was beaten and tortured, given only dirty water and old tortillas to eat, and forced to drink the soldiers’ urine. Doña Julia made her way to the Sepur Zarco base three times to look for her daughter, but they never allowed her to see her. Eventually, she learned from a civil patroller that her daughter and granddaughters had been kept at Sepur Zarco for a week where Dominga was raped, tortured, and forced to dig her own grave before being killed along with her two daughters. “They killed her in spite of her having washed their clothes. They told her to bathe because they were going to release her.” Another villager later helped them locate the spot, near the rive, where the three had been buried, and Doña Julia explained to the court that some her daughter’s remains and pieces of her corte (skirt), as well as her granddaughters’ underwear, were found when the clandestine grave was exhumed a few years ago, but that the girls’ remains had already “turned to soil”. Speaking of the period after her daughter’s disappearance, when the soldiers would patrol the mountains surrounding her community, hiding in the forest, imposing curfews on the community and forcing them to feed the troops, she stated “I had never felt that kind of fear before.”
Five other witnesses testified in court on Thursday. Four of the men who testified had been forced to work building the Sepur Zarco military base while the fifth was a younger man who testified about his father’s abduction by soldiers and his disappearance after being brought to Sepur Zarco.
Don Marcos, don Domingo (1), don Domingo (2), and don Vincente all described how they were forced to dig holes and carry large tree trunks and rocks to build a fence surrounding the military based. Once the fence was built they forced to work in shifts patrolling the gates that led into the military base. The soldiers ordered them to keep watch for guerrilleros but they all said that they never saw any. These four men remember women going in to the military to work, but their vantage point from the gates didn’t allow them to see what happened to the women once inside. Don Marcos and don Domingo (2) both remember a woman “from Manguito” being brought into the base with her two daughters, and later killed near the river. Don Marcos also indicated that the soldiers who were stationed at Sepur Zarco were from the Cobán and Puerto Barrios Military Zones – the latter being the military zone in which Reyes Girón was commander between 1982 and 1984.
In addition to being forced to work at Sepur Zarco, don Domingo (1) also told the court about being held at Finca Tinajas, where the soldiers had installed an improvised military base. He told the court that the owners of Finca Tinajas and Finca San Miguel allowed soldiers to set up on their properties, using farm buildings to hold and torture villagers that had been detained—and also lent their tractors to transport captured villagers. He explained that “the conflict started when we started to apply for land.” He told the court that, when they started building the Sepur Zarco military base, the soldiers “told us that they were going to set up here to protect us, but what happened is that the deaths increased.”
Don Domingo (2) and Don Marcos both remember “el Canche Asij” from the same period. Don Domingo explained that “don Canche” came to his community and took people away, “he tied people up and brought them to the base in Tinajas,” he said. When asked by Valdez Asij’s defense lawyers what “don Canche” was doing with the soldiers, don Marcos responded that “we just saw him going somewhere with them, we didn’t asked him [what they were doing] because we were afraid.”
The last witness that the court heard on Thursday was don Domingo (3), from Semococh, who was a teenager at the time of the crimes. He told the court that his father had been killed at Sepur Zarco along with at least 4 other men from his community, whose remains had been found in an exhumation held on the grounds of the former military base a few years ago. He told the court that these men’s wives had gone to the base to look for their husbands after they had been taken, but that the soldiers refused to let them see them, and that these women later told of having been raped when they went asking after their husbands. Don Domingo (3) explained to the court that “I was left impoverished because of the soldiers. I’m very sad because I don’t have a father. They killed him in Sepur Zarco,” adding that “I say this because the people who did this are free, they are eating well and we are poor.”
Fabienne Doiron has extensive experience working and conducting field research in Guatemala for the past 12 years and is a doctoral candidate in Gender, Feminist, and Women’s Studies at York University. She is a research associate with the Center for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC) and the Centre for Feminist Studies. Fabienne is currently working with Professor Alison Crosby on research focused on reparations for women survivors of sexual violence during the Guatemalan armed conflict. She is a former international human rights accompanier in Guatemala and member of the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network.