Guatemala’s first ever trial for enforced disappearances began last week. A former paramilitary, Felipe Cusanero, was accused on Monday 10 March of participating in the enforced disappearance of six civilians, with the complicity of the army.
Cusanero is accused of forcibly disappearing Lorenzo Ávila, Alejo Culajay, Filomena López, Encarnación López, Santiago Sutuj y Mario Tay between November 1982 and October 1984.
The prosecution began in 2003 when six inhabitants of Choatalum filed a legal complaint against Cusanero before the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Chimaltenango. According to the UN-sponsored Commission for Historical Clarification, reporting in 1999, Choatalum, a small village within the Municipality of San Marin Jilotepeque, witnessed a large number of human rights violations during the internal armed conflict.
The term “enforced disappearance” refers to state-sponsored abductions in which the victim’s whereabouts and fate remain unknown. The internal armed conflict, which began in 1960, left an estimated 200,000 people dead (including approximately 45,000 “disappearances”) before hostilities ended with a peace agreement in 1996.