Erwin Sperisen

16.05.2016 ( Last modified: 07.04.2021 )

While Erwin Sperisen was Chief of the National Civil Police (PNC) in Guatemala, numerous crimes were committed by the security forces. In October 2005, after a number of inmates had escaped from Infiernito prison, Mr Sperisen and his colleagues implemented the “Plan Gavilán”, the aim of which was to track down and execute the escapees and then to cover up the crime. Three escapees were murdered. A year later, the intervention by Mr Sperisen and his officers at Pavón prison resulted in the deaths of seven prisoners. Once again, the crime scene was covered up. These executions caused a scandal that forced Mr Sperisen to resign on March 20, 2007. He then fled Guatemala and, thanks to his dual Guatemalan and Swiss nationality, went to live in Geneva.

Shortly afterwards, CGAS, ACAT and Uniterre reported Erwin Sperisen before the competent Swiss authorities. In August 2012, after TRIAL had provided new evidence, an international arrest warrant was issued and Erwin Sperisen was arrested in Geneva. The mother of a Pavón victim, who was traced in Guatemala by the TRIAL team, then joined the proceedings.

In June 2014, Erwin Sperisen’s first instance trial was held before the Geneva Criminal Court, which sentenced him to life imprisonment for the extrajudicial execution of seven inmates during the Pavón operation.

In May 2015, Erwin Sperisen’s trial on appeal was held before the Criminal Chamber of the Geneva Court of Justice, which once again sentenced him to life imprisonment, this time for all the crimes with which he had been charged, that is to say, the extrajudicial execution of 10 detainees on two different occasions. The outcome of this case, of vital importance to the victims, was the first conviction of a Central-American national police chief for extrajudicial executions.

In July 2017, following the defense’s appeal, the Swiss Federal Court referred the case back to Genevan tribunals, without ruling on the guilt of the former Head of the Guatemalan police. Erwin Sperisen’s second trial on appeal took place in April 2018 in Geneva. The public prosecutor requested a life imprisonment for his alleged participation in 2006 in the assassination of several detainees in the Pavon prison. Alternatively, the prosecutor requested 15 years of imprisonment for Erwin Sperisen in case the court decided to convict him merely for complicity in these murders. The defense pleaded for his acquittal.

On 27 April 2018, the judges of the Criminal Chamber of Appeal and Revision of Geneva convicted Erwin Sperisen to a penalty of 15 years of-imprisonment. They found him guilty of complicity in the extra-judicial killings of seven inmates of the Pavon prison. Following this judgment, Erwin Sperisen has not been detained but substitutive measures which were decided upon by the Swiss Federal Court on 20 September 2017, have been maintained. He is therefore serving his sentence under house arrest.

In November 2019, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court (FSC) upheld Erwin Sperisen’s sentence to 15 years in prison. The judicial saga that had occupied TRIAL International’s lawyers and their partners for almost 10 years seemed to be finally over. But this was without counting on the acrimony of the lawyers of the opposing party, who asked for a review of the decision rendered by the FSC, and applied for disqualification of a federal judge.

In April 2020, Sperisen’s two applications were dismissed. The Swiss Federal Supreme Court thus puts an end to Sperisen’s attempts to escape his conviction.

On 27 May 2020, Sperisen brought a case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) alleging violations of Articles 3, 5, 6 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights, including alleged partiality of the judges and a breach of his presumption of innocence.



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