Guatemala verdict sets precedent for sexual assault as war crime

Last week in a Guatemala, sexual assault was prosecuted as a war crime by a domestic court. Today, we look at the story of the Sepur Zarco military base and justice delayed after 34 years.
Female victims of sexual slavery attend a court hearing for retired Colonel Esteelmen Reyes Giron and former paramilitary Heriberto Valdez at a tribunal in Guatemala City, Guatemala, Feb. 26, 2016. The retired Colonel was sentenced to 120 years and former paramilitary to 240 years of prison for crimes against humanity, forced disappearance of people, homicide and sexual slavery of women during the civil war in Guatemala, from 1960 to 1996. (Esteban Biba/EPA)

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A Guatemalan Supreme Court judge convicted two former military officers for committing sexual violence as a war crime, Feb. 26, 2016. They were sentenced to a total of 360 years for sexual assault and slavery charges that date back to the 1980s during the country's decades-long civil war 30 years ago. The brutal crimes were against fifteen Mayan women from the tiny hamlet of Sepur Zarco.  

A woman holds a sign with messages of support from citizens from all over the world to indigenous women, that were victims of sexual violence during Guatemala's civil war, in Guatemala City. (Luis Soto/AP )

The case is gaining international attention as it is the first time a domestic court has prosecuted and convicted anyone for sexual violence as a war crime.

Many people around the world are hoping this case will prompt similar prosecutions, especially in neighbouring countries that also experienced civil war.

Guests in this segment: 

  • Amy Bracken, freelance reporter who covered the case and was in the courtroom when the verdict was handed down.
  • Luz Méndez, executive board member of the National Union of Guatemala Women and author of Clamor for Justice. She also chronicled the Sepur Zarco sexual assaults during the civil war and was involved in bringing the war crimes case to trial. 
  • Widney Brown, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights. She's also a former senior director for international law and policy at Amnesty International and worked for Human Rights Watch. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry, Ines Colabrese and Leif Zapf-Gilje.,,,,,,,,,,