Guatemala court convicts paramilitary in first enforced disappearance trial

[JURIST] A Guatemalan paramilitary was convicted and sentenced to 150 years in prison for the enforced disappearance of six indigenous persons during the Guatemalan civil war [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. The trial of Felipe Cusanero, which began [JURIST report] in 2008, was the first time a defendant was tried for enforced disappearance in Guatemala. The trial, conducted at the Criminal Court of First Instance in the city of Chimaltenango, was followed closely [Prensa Libre report, in Spanish] by families of the disappeared persons, the local community, and foreign diplomats. Although Cusanero is suspected of having forced the disappearances of more than six people, testimony in the trial came from six families who lost a member between the years of 1982 and 1984. At the time, Cusanero functioned as a military commissioner in the rural locality, in charge of reporting on potential leftist movements and recruiting for the military forces. Human rights activists and foreign diplomats have expressed hope [AFP report, in Spanish] that this case opens the possibility of prosecuting those responsible at higher levels for enforced disappearances and killings during the Guatemalan armed conflict.

Of an estimated 45,000 disappeared persons and 200,000 casualties during the 36-year civil war, 83 percent were indigenous Guatemalans, according to the findings of a UN-backed truth commission report [text]. The Guatemalan armed conflict ended with peace accord negotiations [NACLA report] in 1996 that included an amnesty law covering war crimes that was decried as conducive to impunity by human rights organizations. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights commemorated [press release; JURIST report] the International Day of the Disappeared Monday, calling on states to eliminate enforced disappearances and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance [text, PDF]. The International Convention has been signed [JURIST report] by at least 57 countries but has not been ratified by the required 20 to take effect. It has not been endorsed by several countries including the US, England, Spain, Germany, and Italy.



 

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