On 12 May 2015, Erwin Sperisen, former head of Guatemala’s National Civil Police, was found guilty of 10 murders by the Criminal Division of the Court of Justice in Geneva, Switzerland. Sperisen thereby lost his appeal against a life sentence for killing prisoners in his home country.
On 6 June 2014, Sperisen had been sentenced to life imprisonment for involvement in extra-judicial killings of seven inmates committed during a police raid on the El Pavon prison outside Guatemala City in 2006.
Sperisen fled to Switzerland in 2007, and as a dual Swiss-Guatemalan citizen, he could not be extradited to Guatemala from Switzerland.
On appeal, the Court of Second Instance re-examined the part Sperisen played in the extrajudicial executions of 10 prisoners during operations carried out by the Guatemalan police. The Swiss Criminal Court upheld his conviction for the 7 inmates of El Pavon prison and also found the former police chief guilty of the murder of three prisoners who had escaped from El Infirnito jail the year before.
Given the seriousness of the acts, the number of victims and the lack of empathy and awareness displayed by the former Chief of the Guatemalan National Police, the judges in the Geneva Criminal Court considered that only a sentence of life imprisonment would be likely to punish the accused.
TRIAL, a Geneva-based NGO called the confirmation of Sperisen’s life sentence a victory for the fight against impunity. According to the Director of TRIAL “[T]he sentence passed is proof that the justice system is able to prove the involvement of the State and its representatives in serious human rights violations, and bring them to justice. We hope that Erwin Sperisen’s conviction will set an example, particularly to the Spanish authorities, who must now prosecute his immediate superior, former minister Carlos Vielman, for the same acts.”
Sperisen was detained in 2012, two years after Guatemala issued arrest orders over the killings at the El Pavon prison.The orders followed an investigation by the UN-backed international commission against impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).