WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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3 Jan 2022 | Media Advisory

Landmark Guatemalan Trial for Wartime Sexual Violence against Indigenous Women to Begin January 4th

WOLA Expert to provide up-to-date background and analysis 

Media Advisory

Guatemala City—On Tuesday, January 4, 2022, the trial is set to begin of five former civil defense patrolmen who are accused of committing crimes against humanity including systematic acts of sexual violence against 36 Maya Achi women. The alleged crimes occurred at the military base at Rabinal, Alta Verapaz between 1981 and 1985. The accused were part of the Civil Defense Patrols (PACs) that were created by the Guatemalan Army during the internal armed conflict as a way to control the indigenous population and which have been implicated in serious human rights violations, including massacres, forced disappearance, and sexual violence. 

The Maya Achi sexual violence case is a landmark case, marking only the second time that a case of wartime sexual violence against indigenous women will be tried before the Guatemalan courts. It is one of several cases connected to Guatemala’s internal armed conflict currently making their way through the courts. The cases have come about because survivors, families of victims, and their allies in local and international civil society have pressed for justice with persistence against great odds over the years. 

  • WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt, an international expert on transitional justice and long-time observer of war crimes trials in Guatemala, will be monitoring the proceedings in the Maya Achi sexual violence case, with the support of Truth and Justice in Guatemala, an organization she founded and co-directs with Guatemalan human rights defender Paulo Estrada.
  • They have been tracking the case since the first arrests in 2018; reports through 2020 can be viewed here, with a more recent update here.

For Background and Updates on the Trial contact:

Jo-Marie Burt at jmburt.wola@gmail.com or +1 (703) 946-9714

WOLA Press at press@wola.org

Background Summary

On May 11, 2018, six alleged PAC members were captured and charged with crimes against humanity for sexual violence against 36 Maya Achi women from Rabinal, in the Baja Verapaz department between 1981 and 1985. They were released a little over a year later, on June 21, 2019, after pretrial judge Claudette Domínguez dismissed the charges against them. The decision was highly criticized, as the judge disregarded more than 200 pieces of evidence, including military documents, eyewitness accounts, and most importantly, the testimonies of the women survivors themselves. The plaintiffs successfully recused Judge Domínguez and the case was transferred to Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez. 

The case was reopened in January 2020, after Francisco Cuxum Alvarado, who was wanted in the case, was deported to Guatemala from the United States. While in U.S. custody, Cuxum Alvarado admitted to being a member of the Rabinal civil defense patrol.

In the context of the evidentiary phase hearings against Francisco Cuxum Alvarado, Judge Gálvez cited three of the six men who had been provisionally released in 2019 (Damian Cuxum Alvarado, Benvenuto Ruiz Aquino and Bernardo Ruiz Aquino) and ordered their immediate detention. The judge determined that there was sufficient evidence to send all four men to trial. Judge Gálvez ruled that Francisco Cuxum Alvarado’s brother, Gabriel, who was captured in May 2021, should also be sent to trial and included him as a fifth defendant in the public trial set to begin on January 4, 2022.

The women survivors of Rabinal have overcome numerous legal hurdles to finally reach this moment of bringing at least some of the alleged perpetrators of systematic sexual violence and other grave crimes to trial. This is the second trial for sexual violence against indigenous women before the Guatemala courts, following the landmark 2016 Super Zarco case, in which 15 Q’eqchi’ women won the conviction of two military officials for the crimes of sexual violence and sexual and domestic slavery. Judge Yassmín Barrios will preside over the public trial. 

As WOLA recently noted, over the past decade, networks made up of members of Guatemala’s political and military elite, criminal groups, and private sector have mobilized to push back against anti-impunity efforts. These groups have found common cause in the current administration of President Alejandro Giammattei, who has overseen the wholesale dismantling of institutions that were put in place to implement the Peace Accords. These actions by the Giammattei government threaten to undermine the ability of victims of grave human rights violations to access justice, truth and reparations. The trial set to begin on January 4, 2022 will be a crucial test of the justice system in Guatemala.

For additional background information on the trial, please refer to the following articles:

The Sexual Violence Case against Maya Achi Women Takes a New Turn (Spanish), by Jo-Marie Burt and Paulo Estrada

25 Years After the Peace Accords, Ending Impunity and Advancing Justice in Guatemala is Imperative, WOLA Statement

Hope amidst the darkness: Victims continue to press for justice for wartime atrocities in Guatemala, by Jo-Marie Burt and Paulo Estrada




Jo-Marie Burt

WOLA Senior Fellow

Telephone: (+1) 703-946-9714


WOLA Press