Luis Alberto Paredes Nájera
Luis Alberto Paredes Nájera is an ex-army colonel and was second commander of Military Zone 21 – a former military base in Cobán, Alta Verapaz – between 1 January 1981 and 15 August 1982, during Guatemala’s civil war.
During the 1980s, Military Zone 21 was used by the Guatemalan military as a secret center for illegal detentions, torture, extrajudicial killings, forced disappearance, and rape. In 2012, mass graves containing hundreds of bodies of indigenous men, women, and children from different Mayan ethnic groups – including Achí, Q’eqchi’, Pomochí, Ixil, and Kiché – were uncovered at Military Zone 21, which is now the site of a training center for U.N. peacekeepers known by the Spanish acronym CREOMPAZ. Over 550 skeletons have been exhumed, and at least 128 of the victims have been identified using DNA testing.
Some of these victims have been identified as the victims of the Pambach massacre: on 2 June 1982, the army entered the village of Pambach, about 38 kilometres from Cobán, and forced all the villagers from their homes, separating the men and women. They took all the men away, claiming they had to fulfil their military service, and the men were never seen again. Their bodies were found in the graves at CREOMPAZ in 2012.
On 6 January 2016, Guatemalan authorities arrested 14 former high-ranking military officers in connection with the CREOMPAZ case for crimes committed at Military Zone 21 between 1981 and 1988.
Due to insufficient evidence, three of the defendants – Carlos Humberto Rodríguez López, Édgar Rolando Hernández Méndez, and Pablo Roberto Saucedo Mérida – were dismissed from the case during preliminary hearings before High Risk Tribunal “A”. On 18 January 2016, the remaining 11 accused, including Paredes Nájera, were indicted and ordered to be held in pre-trial detention.
Paredes Nájera was charged with responsibility for the Pambach massacre and the massacre of ten people at the hamlet of Los Encuentros, as well as the subsequent transfer of 40 survivors to Military Zone 21 where they were interrogated, tortured, and executed. He was also charged with 140 cases of enforced disappearance, and four cases of sexual violence occurring in 1982 at Military Zone 21.
Evidentiary hearings to decide whether to send the CREOMPAZ case to trial began on 3 May 2016. On that day, Paredes Nájera was temporarily separated from the case to determine whether he is mentally and physically fit to stand trial. The judge ordered evaluations of Paredes Nájera to be carried out by experts from the Federico Mora Psychiatric Institute and the National Institute of Forensic Sciences. Once the results of these evaluations are available, the Tribunal is expected to hold a hearing to determine whether Paredes Nájera will be tried with the other accused, or whether he should be tried separately under special measures.
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 unleashed a scorched earth policy that included torture and forced 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.