[JURIST] A retired Guatemalan colonel has been sentenced to 53 years in prison for his role in the disappearance of eight indigenous Guatemalans during the 36-year Guatemalan civil war [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. A three-judge court Thursday found Col. Marco Antonio Sanchez and three of his subordinates, Jose Domingo Rios, Gabriel Maldonado Alvarez Ramos and Solomon Rivers, guilty of enforced disappearance [Prensa Libre report, in Spanish]. On October 19, 1981, eight people from the village El Jute, in the province of Chiquimula, were seized by soldiers and taken to a military base in Zacapa. They were never heard from again. The convictions are the first [Guatemalan Times report] in Guatemala [JURIST news archive] against high ranking military officials for human rights violations during the civil war. Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom, in a speech to young people, praised the convictions [press release, in Spanish] as a "landmark" decision and said it was evidence the country is changing both socially and politically.
Sanchez's conviction is not the first in Guatemala for enforced disappearance. In September, Guatemalan paramilitary Felipe Cusanero was convicted [JURIST report] and sentenced to 150 years in prison for the enforced disappearance of six indigenous persons during the civil war between the years of 1982 and 1984. Cusanero's trial, which began [JURIST report] in 2008, was the first time a defendant was tried for enforced disappearance in Guatemala. The country's handling of past human rights violations has garnered support from the US. The US State Department (DOS) [official website], praised [JURIST report] Guatemala for its efforts to investigate past human rights abuses in its 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [DOS materials].