Eleven Former Members of the Military Arrested for Crimes against Humanity
in the Death Squad Diary Case.
On May 27, 2021, the human rights unit of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Civil Police in Guatemala unexpectedly arrested 11 former members of the military charged with forced disappearance and crimes against humanity committed against 183 people that appear in the military intelligence document known as the Death Squad Diary. The Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office has accused them of forced disappearance, torture, sexual violence, murder, and crimes against humanity. The recent arrests offer important hope to the families of the victims who over the years have never stopped searching for the remains of their loved ones.
The Death Squad Diary or “dossier of death” is a military intelligence document first revealed to the public in 1999 through investigative journalism work. The document includes the names of 183 people – 24 women and 159 men – who were forcibly disappeared between August 1983 and March 1985. First published in May of 1999 by Harper Magazine, the document demonstrates the systematic way that forced disappearances were carried out during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala and points to the responsibility of the state in the commission of these heinous crimes. As such, this case has symbolic meaning for all victims of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict and has the potential to make an important contribution to justice in the country.
However, the timing of these arrests coincides with one of the deepest crises of the rule of law in the country since peace was signed in 1996. Recent attacks on the independence of justice and the rule of law are driving the country rapidly towards lawlessness and are severely impacting the situation of human rights in the country. Independent justice operators, civil society actors and victims engaged in the fight against corruption and impunity face severe criminalisation and retaliation for their work. For the ‘Death Squad Diary’ case to move forward and for justice to have a chance, international accompaniment and outspoken public and political support for the protagonists will therefore be of key importance.
Photo Credit: Center for Justice and International Law-CEJIL