Sepur Zarco Trial Day 13: “Obedience does not release responsibilities.”

sepur zarco

Read more about other days at trial here.

Sepur Zarco Trial Day 13: “Obedience does not release responsibilities.”

By Kristine Johnston

Guatemala City – Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Today began with a video testimony from Augustín Chen, a male survivor. His story began in 1982, the year he said the soldiers began to arrive from Puerto Barrios, through El Estor, to take people from their village. He worked on the finca Chavilá, where he was forced into joining a PAC. He identified the administrator of the finca as Victor Milián and also identified the Sepur Zarco base as a place where much of the violence occurred. When asked for the names of the soldiers involved in the crimes he witnessed, he replied by saying, “The soldiers didn’t take us into account to tell us their names because to them we were just simple Indians”. Soldiers asked him to bring in a man named Manuel Cuc, who was accused of feeding subversives, but he denied their request, resulting in his torture. “There I met the black hole”, he said. Other details he recalled put Lieutenant Reyes at the scene, apparently to check on several men that were being detained in the hole. These men were later killed with one or two grenades that were thrown into the hole with them. Don Chen also shared that although he didn’t personally witness the offences committed against the women, he had heard that there were women being detained at the Sepur Zarco base and forced to work: “They [the soldiers] took advantage of them because they were widows”. When he left the base he wasn’t alone. He said he left with a man who could barely walk because he had been tortured so badly by the soldiers.

Don Chen’s testimony was followed by an intriguing expert testimony from Prudencio García Martínez, a Spanish retired army colonel. He testified that the accused would not be able to plead ignorance by saying that the violence was carried out by their troop without their knowledge. This is because of the structure of the army. After Nuremberg, international law dictated that no military or civilian authority would be able to claim ignorance for acts committed by their subordinates because it is their obligation to both control and discipline them. He followed that by saying that they were also unable to plead not guilty on the basis that they were obliged to carry out certain orders. His reasoning for this was based on the fact that the violence they committed was prohibited by law and stated that any order outside the law can’t be legally given or followed by a subordinate. “Obedience does not release responsibilities”, he said. However, he also mentioned that during the armed conflict, military members who committed human rights crimes were typically protected by a system of impunity built by the military institution.

He used an imperativo-moral (moral-imperative) methodology for his analysis. He began by describing a three-part theoretical framework outlining the basic values of the military in regards to human rights, including: (1) Strict Discipline, which should always fall within the limits of the law. (2) Military Honour, which is inseparable from human rights; any violation of human rights is a violation of military honour. (3) Esprit de Corps, a feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty, which is based in a demanding moral sense or feeling. “Individual members of the institution should be separated from it, punished for their crimes, and not concealed to ensure their impunity.” He followed this by listing the generating factors that lead to grave human rights violations committed by the armed forces. These include: (1) the degenerate concept of discipline, characterized by a blind, robotic obedience to all orders whether within the boundaries of the law or not. (2) The degenerate concept of honour, based on an honour code alien to human rights where torture and assassination don’t affect military honour at all. (3) The perversion of spirit de corps, based on the defence of the institution with full impunity for its members; basically, a corporate system of impunity that protects all members who commit grave crimes against humanity. The witness further stated that sexual violence isn’t accidental, but instead a form of attack used by the military to instill fear in a population. Rape is an effective weapon and a harm to society that weakens social groups and sows fear. He also said that the cruel acts in this case were exemplary punishments used to terrorize communities. During this testimony, I could often see Reyes shaking his head or scowling and found myself wondering what he was thinking. I sometimes find it unnerving to be in the same room as him, which causes me to admire the strength of the women survivors even more. It amazes me that they are able to sit across the room from him while reliving the abuses they suffered during the conflict. For these reasons, it is clear how important it is for us to stand in solidarity with them during this process of justice.

Cultural expert Dr. Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj gave her testimony next. Dr. Irma used an intersectional analysis to understand and explain the acts committed against the women and the effects that they had. Specifically, she examined the social inequality that existed, and still does exist, within and between groups of different culture, race, class, gender, and sexuality in Guatemala. She noted that racism is a collective social expression often used to marginalize populations assumed to be inferior, and discussed with the court the many facets of racism and sexual violence against women, including their ability to destroy cultures. In this case, the arrival of military detachments brought with it both internal and external damages to women. The six outposts in the area served the purpose of protecting the fincas rather than the people; the goal was to take possession of the land, which is a huge social factor in dispossession. Indigenous community members were seeking land certificates and fair wages, which upset the finca “owners”. The army arrived mainly to serve the interests of these owners, who labelled the Mayans guerrillas in order to have them displaced; however, Dr. Irma stated that the women survivors in this case would have never seen let alone imagined what a guerrilla was.

In her testimony, Dr. Irma also talked about how the violations altered both the community life and cultural systems that the survivors were accustomed to. In this way, racism and violence were used to control indigenous populations in the area and, unfortunately, Mayan groups in Guatemala haven’t been treated with respect or dignity throughout much of the country’s history. During the armed conflict, the army used acts of sexual violence against Mayan women as a tactic to destroy both humanity and culture, as well as to subdue the indigenous groups in Guatemala. Examples of major changes in the women’s lives were also given. For example, in their testimonies some women said, “It changed life, to be widowed” and “Everything left with the war”. Other powerful quotes from their testimonies include: (1) “Now I know that none of the women in the community have a happy life, now I know that we were all sexually violated by the army” (Doña Magdalena Pop); (2) “I wanted to leave my body”; (3) “We stayed in the street, without anyone or anything”; and (4) “Justice was never on our side, it never helped us” (Doña Carmen Xol).

Sepur Zarco Trial Day 13: “Obedience does not release responsibilities.”
Wednesday, February 17, 2016

 

Today began with a video testimony from Augustín Chen, a male survivor. His story began in 1982, the year he said the soldiers began to arrive from Puerto Barrios, through El Estor, to take people from their village. He worked on the finca Chavilá, where he was forced into joining a PAC. He identified the administrator of the finca as Victor Milián and also identified the Sepur Zarco base as a place where much of the violence occurred. When asked for the names of the soldiers involved in the crimes he witnessed, he replied by saying, “The soldiers didn’t take us into account to tell us their names because to them we were just simple Indians”. Soldiers asked him to bring in a man named Manuel Cuc, who was accused of feeding subversives, but he denied their request, resulting in his torture. “There I met the black hole”, he said. Other details he recalled put Lieutenant Reyes at the scene, apparently to check on several men that were being detained in the hole. These men were later killed with one or two grenades that were thrown into the hole with them. Don Chen also shared that although he didn’t personally witness the offences committed against the women, he had heard that there were women being detained at the Sepur Zarco base and forced to work: “They [the soldiers] took advantage of them because they were widows”. When he left the base he wasn’t alone. He said he left with a man who could barely walk because he had been tortured so badly by the soldiers.

 

Don Chen’s testimony was followed by an intriguing expert testimony from Prudencio García Martínez, a Spanish retired army colonel. He testified that the accused would not be able to plead ignorance by saying that the violence was carried out by their troop without their knowledge. This is because of the structure of the army. After Nuremberg, international law dictated that no military or civilian authority would be able to claim ignorance for acts committed by their subordinates because it is their obligation to both control and discipline them. He followed that by saying that they were also unable to plead not guilty on the basis that they were obliged to carry out certain orders. His reasoning for this was based on the fact that the violence they committed was prohibited by law and stated that any order outside the law can’t be legally given or followed by a subordinate. “Obedience does not release responsibilities”, he said. However, he also mentioned that during the armed conflict, military members who committed human rights crimes were typically protected by a system of impunity built by the military institution.

 

He used an imperativo-moral (moral-imperative) methodology for his analysis. He began by describing a three-part theoretical framework outlining the basic values of the military in regards to human rights, including: (1) Strict Discipline, which should always fall within the limits of the law. (2) Military Honour, which is inseparable from human rights; any violation of human rights is a violation of military honour. (3) Esprit de Corps, a feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty, which is based in a demanding moral sense or feeling. “Individual members of the institution should be separated from it, punished for their crimes, and not concealed to ensure their impunity.” He followed this by listing the generating factors that lead to grave human rights violations committed by the armed forces. These include: (1) the degenerate concept of discipline, characterized by a blind, robotic obedience to all orders whether within the boundaries of the law or not. (2) The degenerate concept of honour, based on an honour code alien to human rights where torture and assassination don’t affect military honour at all. (3) The perversion of spirit de corps, based on the defence of the institution with full impunity for its members; basically, a corporate system of impunity that protects all members who commit grave crimes against humanity. The witness further stated that sexual violence isn’t accidental, but instead a form of attack used by the military to instill fear in a population. Rape is an effective weapon and a harm to society that weakens social groups and sows fear. He also said that the cruel acts in this case were exemplary punishments used to terrorize communities. During this testimony, I could often see Reyes shaking his head or scowling and found myself wondering what he was thinking. I sometimes find it unnerving to be in the same room as him, which causes me to admire the strength of the women survivors even more. It amazes me that they are able to sit across the room from him while reliving the abuses they suffered during the conflict. For these reasons, it is clear how important it is for us to stand in solidarity with them during this process of justice.

 

Cultural expert Dr. Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj gave her testimony next. Dr. Irma used an intersectional analysis to understand and explain the acts committed against the women and the effects that they had. Specifically, she examined the social inequality that existed, and still does exist, within and between groups of different culture, race, class, gender, and sexuality in Guatemala. She noted that racism is a collective social expression often used to marginalize populations assumed to be inferior, and discussed with the court the many facets of racism and sexual violence against women, including their ability to destroy cultures. In this case, the arrival of military detachments brought with it both internal and external damages to women. The six outposts in the area served the purpose of protecting the fincas rather than the people; the goal was to take possession of the land, which is a huge social factor in dispossession. Indigenous community members were seeking land certificates and fair wages, which upset the finca “owners”. The army arrived mainly to serve the interests of these owners, who labelled the Mayans guerrillas in order to have them displaced; however, Dr. Irma stated that the women survivors in this case would have never seen let alone imagined what a guerrilla was.

In her testimony, Dr. Irma also talked about how the violations altered both the community life and cultural systems that the survivors were accustomed to. In this way, racism and violence were used to control indigenous populations in the area and, unfortunately, Mayan groups in Guatemala haven’t been treated with respect or dignity throughout much of the country’s history. During the armed conflict, the army used acts of sexual violence against Mayan women as a tactic to destroy both humanity and culture, as well as to subdue the indigenous groups in Guatemala. Examples of major changes in the women’s lives were also given. For example, in their testimonies some women said, “It changed life, to be widowed” and “Everything left with the war”. Other powerful quotes from their testimonies include: (1) “Now I know that none of the women in the community have a happy life, now I know that we were all sexually violated by the army” (Doña Magdalena Pop); (2) “I wanted to leave my body”; (3) “We stayed in the street, without anyone or anything”; and (4) “Justice was never on our side, it never helped us” (Doña Carmen Xol).

 

”"

I took this photo from where I sat in the courtroom on February 17, 2016 during Prudencio García Martínez’s expert testimony.

Kristine Johnston is a graduate of St. Francis Xavier University and member of Breaking the Silence. She is currently volunteering with the New Hope Foundation in Guatemala.

Share Button

Tags:

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply