Over the past decade, stimulated by Inter-American Court rulings such as this one, a once timid and ineffective Attorney General’s Office has brought several key human rights cases to trial in Guatemala, and the courts have handed down convictions in a number of cases.
The May 2018 conviction in the Molina Theissen case stands out because it found senior military officials responsible for the crimes against Emma and Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, including former Army Chief of Staff and retired general Manuel Benedicto Lucas Garcia, who is considered the architect of the Guatemalan Army’s counterinsurgency strategy.
Not one step backwards: fighting against impunity
The Molina Thiessen family expressed their satisfaction with the judgement, which they described as “historic and revolutionary”. Emma said she found the trial proceedings difficult but profoundly restorative.
This underscores that justice is key to rebuilding societies that have experienced long cycles of impunity, corruption and violence. It illustrates that domestic courts, when given the tools and conditions to do so, are fully capable of conducting war crimes trials that uphold due process rights while also offering victims an opportunity to be heard.
Public trials also provide society at large an opportunity to learn the truth about what happened during the internal armed conflict.
However, the effort by members of the Guatemalan Congress to pass an amnesty law that would free the four men convicted in this case reveals that the power structures that organized and facilitated state violence in Guatemala remain as such.
In alliance with conservative politicians and elites, they are seeking to roll back the rule of law and restore their power and privilege. Shutting down war crimes trials and guaranteeing impunity for those responsible is a key part of this campaign.
For this very reason, it is expected that Inter-American Court on March 11th will once again serve as a watchdog against human rights setbacks. Emma Molina Theissen, her mother, and her sisters will have an opportunity to tell the court why the amnesty proposal violates their rights and the rights of thousands of victims of the Guatemalan armed conflict.
They will also be able to express their concern that while last year’s verdict has been incredibly healing for them, they cannot rest until they know the full truth about what happened to Marco Antonio and until his remains are returned to them so that they can give him a proper burial.
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