[JURIST] The UN on Friday announced its approval [press release] of the arrest 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. Fuentes was arrested last week [BBC report] and charged for his involvement in Guatemala’s 36-year civil war [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Margot Wallstrom, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, applauded the arrest:
The apprehension of General Lopez Fuentes sends a strong signal to all perpetrators that conflict-related sexual violence is not acceptable, and that justice will ultimately prevail. Sexual violence thrives on silence and impunity. Women have no rights if those who violate their rights go unpunished.
The UN also indicated that “the arrest sends a strong signal that justice can prevail in the Central American country.”
The Guatemalan civil war resulted in more than 200,000 deaths, mostly among Guatemala’s large indigenous population. According to a UN report released in 1999, the military was responsible for 95 percent of those deaths. In response to these violations, 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. The Congress of Guatemala [official website, in Spanish] voted [JURIST report] to create the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) [official website] in April 2007, establishing an independent body [press release, in Spanish] to investigate organized crime and official corruption, including the country’s civil war. In February 2008, the Guatemalan government announced plans to declassify documents [JURIST report] describing human rights abuses committed by its military during the civil war.