Mayan Women pictured at the trial ©CNN
Two former militaries were found guilty by a Guatemala court of murder, rape and sexual enslavement of indigenous women and were respectively sentenced to 240 and 120 years imprisonment.
The ruling is the first successful prosecution for sexual violence committed during Guatemala’s troubled decades. The facts date back to the 1980s, during Guatemalas 36 year-long civil war that only ended in 1996 with the signig of Peace accords. At the time, armed forces repeatedly attacked the village of Sepur Zarco and Mayan communities were caught in the opposition between the army and the leftist rebel groups. As a result, several men were killed and soldiers considered the women as being “available”. It was reported that women were required to report every third day to the base for “shifts” during which they were raped, sexually abused, and forced to cook and clean for the soldiers.
Former Lt. Col. Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Giron, who was the commander of the Sepur Zarco military base, and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij were found guilty of holding 15 women in sexual and domestic slavery and for killing one woman and her two daughters.
“This is historic, it is a great step for women and above all for the victims,” said Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, who attended the hearing.
A Bosnian court has granted compensation for the first time to a war crimes victim in criminal proceedings in a case against two former Bosnian Serb soldiers who raped a teenage girl during the 1992-95 war.
Courts have jailed hundreds of war criminals but have always directed victims to pursue compensation in expensive civil procedures which many victims avoided because it required them to reveal their identities.
Bosiljko Markovic and Ostoja Markovic were sentenced to 10 years in prison on Wednesday and ordered to pay 13,520 euros ($15,160) to a Croat woman they raped during the Serb attack on her village in 1992.
Experts say the verdict paves the way for adjustments in legal practice that would compensate victims and bring criminals to justice in one trial.
Among international mobilization for 2015 International Women’s Day, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has decided to seize the opportunity to “reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.”
The ICTY released today a short video in which ICTY President Theodor Meron and representatives of the Office of the Prosecutor and the Registry highlight the Tribunal’s ground-breaking work on the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of crimes of sexual and gender-based violence.
“For many centuries, rape and other forms of sexual violence committed in the context of armed conflict were often seen as an inevitable and even legitimate by-product of war,” said President Meron. “Now, however, and thanks in great part to the work of the Tribunal, such brutal and appalling acts are seen for what they are: alleged crimes, for which accountability can and must be sought. This represents a remarkable achievement not just for the ICTY but for women and men of conscience everywhere.”
In the press release accompanying the video, it is reminded that almost half of the cases at the Tribunal have dealt with instances of sexual and gender-based violence — mainly, but not exclusively, against women. In the context of these cases, the Tribunal’s Judges have issued a number of landmark rulings, including rulings recognising the crime of rape may constitute a form of torture (Prosecutor v. Mucić et al.) and sexual enslavement may constitute a crime against humanity (Prosecutor v. Kunarac et al.).
The ICTY has also set key practical and procedural precedents related to the treatment of victims of sexual and gender-based violence. The ICTY’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence, for example, do not require corroboration of the testimony of a victim of sexual violence. Consent is not recognised if the circumstances in which it was given are deemed coercive by the Judges. In addition, protective measures – such as protection of name, face and voice, or closed session testimony – are used to protect victims’ identity.