A Guatemalan court on Tuesday convicted and sentenced four former soldiers to 6,060 years in prison each on war crimes charges related to the country's 1982 Dos Erres massacre. Carlos Antonio Carias, Manuel Pop, Reyes Collin and Daniel Martinez were convicted of crimes against humanity [CNN report] for being members of a military force that killed more than 250 people in the town of Dos Erres during the 36-year Guatemalan Civil War [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], though the men were ultimately held accountable for only 201 deaths [BBC report]. Three of the men were members of a special forces unit known as the Kaibiles, at least part of which is alleged to have played a role in the massacre. The military force was attempting to overthrow insurgents during Guatemala's military rule under General Efrain Rios Montt. The men pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the war crimes charges at the start of the trial last week, arguing that they were not stationed with the group that carried out the atrocities at Dos Erres. Twenty-three witnesses, including former military officials and survivors, testified at trial.
The Guatemalan civil war resulted in more than 200,000 deaths, mostly among Guatemala's large indigenous Mayan population. According to a UN report [text, in Spanish; press release] released in 1999, the military was responsible for 95 percent of those deaths. Earlier in June, the UN said it approved of the arrest [JURIST report] of a former top Guatemalan military figure accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. General Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, former chief of staff of Guatemalan armed forces from 1982-1983, is accused of directing military attacks against citizens, namely indigenous Mayans. Villages were destroyed and women and girls were systematically raped under his authorization. In response many deaths during the civil war, the Guatemalan government founded the National Compensation Program (PNR) in 2003 to deal with claims by civilians affected by the civil war. The PNR, after setting up its administrative structure, has begun to use its $40 million budget to work through a backlog of more than 98,000 civilian complaints. More than 1,000 complaints were filed in 2008. The PNR hopes to file the majority of the complaints within the next year.