Updated 04:56 PM EST, Sun, Jan 17, 2021

Guatemala to Prosecute Former Military Officers for Wartime Massacres

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Eleven former military officers in Guatemala will be prosecuted on charges of crimes against humanity, said the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR).

According to Radio Vaticana, these military personnel are facing charges of enforced disappearances and crimes against humanity, which they committed in the 1980s, at the height of the Guatemalan Civil War.

Ravina Shamdasani, the UNHCHR spokesperson, said that the UN's decision to try the accused came after investigations from the Guatemalan Attorney General's Office came that found human rights violations that took place in a military camp in Coban.

According to the investigations, mass graves were found in the camp containing the remains of at least 500 people, including women and children, who had been gagged and bound.

Among those on trial include the former military Chief Manuel Benedicto Lucas Garcia, who incidentally also happens to be the brother of the then-President of Guatemala, Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia. He was said to have worked closely with US Military officials to develop the warfare system in the highlands against Guatemala's Mayan communities. This "system" included having to decapitate and crucify indigenous people.

Lucas expressed his disappointment about being put to trial after he proclaimed his innocence to the court, saying that he was never in the area at the time that the massacres occurred. Another alleged criminal, Edgar Justino Ovalle, who cofounded the party supporting current president Morales, has impunity at this point and cannot be arrested. However, according to The New York Times, it seems that the Attorney General has stated that the office is asking the Supreme Court to lift the said immunity.

Tico Times noted that Raul Dehesa Olivia, who was also one of the accused, argued that commanders and sub-commanders should not be put on trial for the crimes committed by the rest of the troops. He said, "We are here because we defended the Guatemalan people."

The military officials involved had it a long time coming. In 1996, when peace accords were signed between Guatemala's then-governing party and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity guerrillas, the Historical Clarification Commission was established, and trouble brewed upon the commission's report on the conflict, published in 1999.

According to Guatemala Solidarity, the report stated that of all the violations recorded during the 35-year war, 93 percent of the violations were committed by the state, and only 3 percent was attributed to the guerrillas.

Of all the victims, 83 percent were from the indigenous Maya group, and another 17 percent was from Ladino. It was concluded that the state made a "genocidal campaign" against the Mayans in the western highlands, however, the finding has been denied by the government up until this day.

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