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Guatemala court sentences former police chief to 70 years for war crimes

A Guatemalan court on Wednesday sentenced a former police chief to 70 years for the kidnapping of a college student during the country's 36-year Civil War [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Pedro Garcia was convicted of carrying out the kidnapping of engineering student Edgar Saenz, who disappeared in 1981. Garcia will also face additional charges [Reuters report] of murder associated with a 1980 fire that killed 36 people. Garcia is the highest-ranking former Guatemalan official to be convicted of war crimes charges since the current government began prosecuting civil war misconduct by the military and former government officials.

The Guatemalan civil war, which lasted from 1960-1996 [BBC timeline] resulted in more than 200,000 deaths, mostly among Guatemala's large indigenous Mayan population. According to a UN report [text, in Spanish] released in 1999, the military was responsible for 95 percent of those deaths. A Guatemalan judge ruled in May that former dictator Efrain Rios Montt will have a second genocide trial [JURIST report] for ordering a 1982 massacre which killed 201 people. In March, a former military official to was sentenced to 6,060 years in prison [JURIST report] for his role in the massacre. Earlier that month a Guatemalan judge denied amnesty [JURIST report] to Rios Montt, who was in power during the Dos Erres massacre, but denied any involvement. In February, JURIST guest columnist and Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission Kelsey Alford-Jones opined [JURIST op-ed] that prosecuting Rios Montt was necessary to bring justice to his victims, as well as strengthen the Guatemalan judiciary.

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