Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes

24.04.2016 ( Last modified: 14.06.2016 )
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facts

Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes was born in Guatemala City in 1958 as the third of six children of a military family. His father worked as a martial arts instructor for the Guatemalan army. Sosa Orantes graduated from officer school as a sub-lieutenant in 1979. He then held various posts in different regions, was trained as a paratroop and commanded an honour guard of 40 soldiers. In 1981, he became an instructor at the Kaibil school, which trained special commando units. It was the Kaibiles who were responsible for the Dos Erres Massacre.

Between 1962 and 1996, Guatemala experienced an internal armed conflict which ended with the signing of the Peace on 29 December 1996 and resulted in 250,000 victims (fatalities and missing persons).

In March 1982, a coup brought Efrain Rios Montt to power and made him head of the military junta. His scorched earth policy led to widespread repression, characterized by massacres against the Indian population and the obliteration of 440 Indian villages. Hundreds of thousands of victims were buried in secret mass graves.

From 6 to 8 December 1982 a military operation was launched against the civilian population of the subdivision “Las Dos Erres” in the department of Petén, which had been designated red zone (population guerrilla sympathizers).

Following orders of the Guatemalan Military High Command, Sosa Orantes and troops under his command surrounded Dos Erres, preventing anyone from escaping, and searched every home for weapons. They separated the men from the women and children and then, in the course of three days, systematically killed the villagers. Among others, they killed all the babies, hitting them in the head with a sledgehammer, and threw them into a well. Members of the special patrol also forcibly raped many of the women and girls for days at Dos Erres before killing them. In the attacks on the village of Dos Erres, more than 200 men, women and children were massacred.

Before the Guatemalan civil war officially ended, Sosa Orantes fled the country in 1985 and applied for asylum in the United States. The application was rejected in mid-September 1985. After three years, during which Sosa Orantes was seeking political asylum at the Canadian Consulate, he moved to Canada in 1988 as a legal immigrant and obtained Canadian citizenship in 1992. He settled with his family in Lethbridge, Alberta, where he set up a karate school. Only shortly after, he divorced his wife and moved back to the U.S. to teach karate in New York. There he married for a second time, to a Guatemala-born U.S. citizen. It is thanks to this marriage that Sosa Orantes obtained a Green Card in 1998. He left his wife and moved to Riverside, California, where he would later run four karate schools.

He divorced his second wife in 2006 and remarried in California. In 2007 he applied for U.S. citizenship, which he was granted in September 2008. On his citizenship form, Sosa Orantes responded negatively to a question asking if he had committed a crime for which he had not been arrested.

Three months later, investigators finally started to look into Sosa Orante’s past more carefully. In May 2010, federal agents searched his home in California, whereupon he quickly traveled to Canada via Mexico.

On 2 September 2010, a Federal Judge from the Central District Court of California issued a warrant for the arrest of Sosa Orantes, charging him with making false statements on his U.S. citizenship application. He is accused of lying to American immigration authorities about whether he had committed a crime or been a member of a military organization when he applied for U.S. citizenship.

He was arrested on 18 January 2011 in Lethbridge, Canada.

legal procedure

In a decision issued on 2 September 2011, the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta ruled that Sosa Orantes could be extradited to the USA where he is wanted for immigration fraud. He is also wanted by Guatemalan and Spanish authorities for his alleged involvement in attacks on the village of Dos Erres.

SPAIN

On 4 April 2011, Judge Santiago Pedraz at the Spanish National Court issued an arrest warrant and an extradition request for Jorge Sosa Orantes for his participation in the Dos Erres massacre of 1982. He is charged with genocide, torture and extrajudicial killing.

The Spanish criminal charges against Sosa Orantes were filed in connection with the larger Guatemala Genocide Case which was initiated by Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchú Tum and others. The case charges former head of state General Efraín Ríos Montt and other senior Guatemalan officials with terrorism, genocide, and systematic torture. If extradited, Sosa could face trial and be sentenced to 30 years in a Spanish prison.

GUATEMALA

On 2 August 2011, a court in Guatemala City convicted four men on grounds of murder and crimes against humanity for their participation in the Dos Erres massacre as part of a special army unit that methodically executed over 200 people in 1982. Only two young boys, one of whom is now a Canadian citizen, survived the massacre. The court sentenced three of them, Manuel Pop Sun, Reyes Collin Gualip et Daniel Martínez Méndez to 6060 years in prison and the fourth, Carlos Antonio Carias López, to 6066 years.

Sosa Orantes is wanted by Guatemalan authorities for allegedly participating in attacks on a village in 1982 in which 201 men, women and children were massacred. Of the four kaibiles most recently accused, Sosa apparently held the highest rank, serving as second lieutenant. Witnesses specifically identified him as one of the officers who supervised the operation.

CANADA

In a decision issued on 2 September 2011, the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta ruled that Sosa Orantes could be extradited to the USA where he is wanted for immigration fraud. The Canadian Department of Justice recently authorized such extradition. Queen’s Bench Justice Neil Wittmann ruled Friday that the burden of proof has been met to approve a request from the U.S. Justice Department to return Jorge Vinicio Orantes Sosa to stand trial.

In its ruling, the court stated that the evidence of the massacre at Dos Erres clearly was sufficient to establish that Sosa Orantes was present and involved; that he actively participated in the killings with a sledgehammer, with a firearm and a grenade. The evidence also clearly showed that he was one of the commanding officers that took the decision to slaughter 171 men, women and children. The court reasoned that while it is difficult to comprehend the murderous acts of depraved cruelty on the scale disclosed by the evidence, this conduct is criminal in any civilization.

Since Sosa Orantes is a Canadian citizen as is one of the only survivors of the massacre, the connections to Canada are very strong. When faced with allegations of crimes against humanity, Canada is legally obligated to submit the matter for prosecution or extradite Sosa Orantes to a country that will pursue those charges. Guatemala has indicted Sosa Orantes for murder and crimes against humanity and formally asked Canada for his extradition. Canada can also make use of its Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act (CAHWCA) which gives the Crown the authority to prosecute crimes against humanity committed abroad.

On 21 September 2012, Canada extradited Sosa Orantes to the United States, where he was charged with making a false statement in a naturalization matter and unlawful procurement of naturalization before a Jury in Riverside, California. He was accused of lying to U.S. immigration authorities about whether he had committed a crime or been member of a military organization when he first applied for U.S. citizenship. According to the Prosecution, Sosa Orantes had concealed his involvement in the Dos Erres massacre. Although he was not charged with the killings in Guatemala themselves, the Prosecution had to prove his complicity in the massacre in order to demonstrate that he lied on immigration forms.

On 24 September 2013 the trial against Sosa Orantes opened.

On 1 October 2013 the Jury delivered its verdict finding the accused guilty of making a false statement in a naturalization matter and unlawful procurement of naturalization. A sentence hearing was set for 9 December 2013.

On 10 February 2014, Sosa Orantes was found guilty of having omitted to mention his role in the Guatemalan army on his citizenship application papers. He was sentenced to the maximum immigration crime of 10 years and was stripped of his US citizenship. He faces deportation after his prison term ends as Guatemala recently requested his extradition.

context

THE CIVIL WAR (1960-1996)

Between 1960 and 1996, Guatemala was embroiled in a civil war that resulted in 250 000 victims (deaths and disappearances). The war ended following a peace signing on 29 December 1996.

The civil war, which would last for 36 years, began in 1960 when young defiant officials and countrymen revolted against the dictatorial regime. Until 1982, there were a series of military or pro military governments.

In 1978, General Fernándo Romeo Lucas García became the president of Guatemala. It was during his presidency that the first large-scale massacre against the Mayan population took place.

In 1982, General Efraín Ríos Montt took control following a coup d’état. He set up Civil Defense Patrols (PAC) made up of 900 000 militia who the army had recruited by force to fight against the guerrilla. He intensified the scorched earth policy, tortures and enforced disappearances. More than 45 000 people fled to Mexico where they stayed in refugee camps in Chiapas and Tabasco. In response, 6000 soldiers from the four main guerrilla groups (EGP, ORPA, FAR and PGT) unified to form the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG). From this point onwards, the conflict truly became a civil war.

Ríos Montt’s brief presidency (from 1982 to 1983) is considered to be the most violent period of the conflict. During this period, 440 Mayan villages were completely destroyed and 200 000 Mayan people were killed in attacks of extreme cruelty (such as; amputation, impalement and torture). Although the (left-wing) guerrilla forces and the (right-wing) death squads had committed summary executions, forced disappearances and had tortured civilians, the majority of human rights violations (93%) were committed by the Guatemalan army and by the PACs that it controlled.

In 1986, free elections were at last organised and were won by Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo of the Christian Democratic Party. It was not until 1996, however, that a peace agreement was signed between the government and the guerrilla, putting an end to a conflict that had lasted for 36 years.

THE COMMISSION FOR HISTORICAL CLARIFICATION (CEH)

In June 1994, the Oslo Accords ordered the creation of a truth commission called the Guatemalan “Commission for Historical Clarification”; its aim was to investigate human rights violations in relation to the armed conflict and to prepare a report covering these violations and their causes. The Commission also aimed to establish specific recommendations to “encourage national peace and harmony in Guatemala”. After having listened to thousands of accounts and having unearthed several clandestine burial sites, the Commission published a final report in February 1999, titled “Silent memories”.

In its report, the CEH accounted for 200 000 deaths, 50 000 disappearances, one million internally displaced refugees and more than 600 devastated communities. The majority of crimes (91%) were committed during the regimes of General Romes Lucas García (1978-1982) and General Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983).

The facts established by this report have been used on a number of occasions during the trials of perpetrators of human rights violations, particularly that of Felipe Cusanero Coj. A former paramilitary officer, he was the first person to be tried for the forced disappearances of civilians during the civil war.

The CEH was supported by another report, “Never again”, published on 24 April 1998 as part of the inter-diocese Recovery of Historical Memory project (REMHI).

THE INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION AGAINST IMPUNITY IN GUATEMALA (CICIG).

On 12 December 2006, an agreement signed between the United Nations and the Guatemalan government established the CICIG. It is an independent body that aims to assist the Guatemalan office of the prosecutor, the national police and other institutions involved in the investigation of sensitive cases, as well as working to dismantle illegal security groups. The CICIG has the right to initiate investigations proprio motu.

The CICIG’s investigations have led to the issuance of 18 arrest warrants, notably for Javier Figueroa and Erwin Sperisen.