Swiss Federal Court upholds Erwin Sperisen’s conviction


On 28 November 2019, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court (FSC) upheld Erwin Sperisen’s sentence to 15 years in prison. In April 2018, the Geneva Court of Justice had found the former head of the Guatemalan police (PNC) guilty of being an accomplice to the murder of seven detainees of the Pavón prison in 2006. TRIAL International, which initiated the complaint, is pleased that justice has finally been achieved and that the verdict is now enforceable. Erwin Sperisen has already been placed under arrest.

Erwin Sperisen Vernon, director of National Civil Police, PNC, inspects an anti gangs operation in Guatemala City, Guatemala, Tuesday, March 14, 2006. ©AP Photo/Moises Castillo

“The victims’ families welcomed the decision with great relief, as it allowed them to finally obtain justice and heal their wounds,” declared Philip Grant, executive director of TRIAL International. “It is also a great day for justice in Guatemala.”



After his arrest in 2012, Sperisen was twice condemned to lifelong prison sentences in Geneva, in 2014 and 2015, after which the case went up on appeal to the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. On appeal, the federal judges overturned the sentence and remanded the case to the courts of Geneva. In a third trial in 2018, M. Sperisen’s sentence was reduced to 15 years in prison, a verdict which the defendant again appealed to the FSC. In the decision affirming Erwin Sperisen’s verdict yesterday, the FSC rejected the defense’s last attempt at advancing several conspiracy theories.

In a 69-page judgment, the FSC dismissed the defense’s allegations, finding that “The conviction of the person concerned as an accomplice to seven murders, as well as the 15-year prison sentence, do not allow for any criticism.” The Court also ratified the findings of the Geneva Court of Justice that Erwin Sperisen “had agreed to assist an undertaking consisting (…) of eliminating men as if they were harmful animals (…) who had done nothing to him and whom he did not know, but who were placed under the protection of the State, and therefore under his own.”

To Bénédict De Moerloose, Head of the International Investigations and Litigation (IIL) at TRIAL International, the decision makes history. The hours spent by the Swiss lawyer and his team building the case against Spiersen since 2010 are countless. Further, the decision is the result of a long-term effort that the NGO could not have sustained without the help of partner organizations in Guatemala. “This decision affirms the fact that Erwin Sperisen participated in an operation to eliminate prisoners, but it is also a recognition of the work of several civil society organizations, with which TRIAL International has fought from the very beginning”, said the lawyer.



For all those who are fighting against impunity in Guatemala, the decision will certainly bring a glimmer of hope. Given the dissolution of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) on 3 September 2019, as well as the election of the new president – a close relative of Erwin Sperisen – on a promise to restore the death penalty, there are reasons to fear the worst for the functioning of the Guatemalan justice system. Thus, the need for independent and impartial justice is indeed greater than ever before.

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