WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

28 Feb 2018 | Media Advisory

Historical Trial Against Senior Military Officers Begins in Guatemala

The case may set an important precedent for prosecuting former military officials for rape, torture, and enforced disappearance

Washington, D.C. — On March 1, a trial will begin for crimes against humanity allegedly committed by five former Guatemalan high-ranking military officials. They are accused of the illegal detention, rape and torture of political activist Emma Molina Theissen, and of conspiring to disappear her 14 year old brother, in 1981.

The defendants include Benedicto Lucas García, former head of the military cabinet and brother of former dictator Romeo Lucas García; the former intelligence director Manuel Callejas y Callejas, and three other former military officers and intelligence officers, who controlled the military zone where Emma Molina Theissen was arrested and tortured.

“It has been almost two decades since the Guatemalan state recognized responsibility for what happened to the Molina Theissen family, and yet this trial is the first time anyone faces criminal charges for the disappearance of Marco Antonio and for the rape and torture of his sister, ” said Jo-Marie Burt, an expert on transitional justice issues and a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

“Twenty years after the signing of Guatemala’s peace accords, there are still thousands of families who, like the Molina Theissens, are still seeking truth and justice for their loved ones who were disappeared or suffered other abuses at the hands of the military during the armed conflict,” said Burt. “The fact that this case has made it to trial sends a clear message that the time for justice for the victims has come.”

In addition to the case of the Molina Theissen family, Dr. Burt has previously monitored historical cases in Guatemala, including the trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and the historic case of Sepur Zarco. She has written and has been widely cited in media such as the New York Times, CNN, and the Guardian, commenting on issues related to corruption and transitional justice in Latin America.

Dr. Burt will be in Guatemala City observing Molina Theissen’s trial from March 1 onwards for the International Justice Monitor, and is available to provide comments and analysis on the historical importance of the Molina Theissen case, the arguments presented by the prosecution and the defense, and other issues related to the case.