Day 1

09:36 The Court

This is where the lay judges sit who will decide the fate of the accused

As a first point, the public prosecutor asked to be able to question some of the witnesses via video conference. We were very fortunate that the Public Prosecution Service was willing to bring so many witnesses from Guatemala to testify in the assize trial. But things didn’t go smoothly. There is still a lot of very justified fear in Guatemala. The witnesses are also no spring chickens, which means that in addition to their safety, their health can cause additional complications.

That is why some are interrogated via video connection. But there are also quite a few who come to testify “in real life”.

Tomorrow the investigating judges will come, the police commissioner who has been following the case from the beginning and one of the police officers who also followed the case in the beginning.

One of those investigating judges is already causing some extra work, he is snowed in in Bavaria and that is why a video connection has to be organised in stead.

Furthermore, two new witnesses have been added, a Guatemalan lawyer who has followed human rights cases in his own country, and a member of a family that was severely battered in Guatemala and who emigrated to Canada.

Since the accused have chosen not to exercise their right of defense themselves, resulting in a judgment in absentia

09:52 The indictment

The federal prosecutor reads her indictment, in which the victims, Walter Voordeckers, Ward Capiau, Paul Schildermans and Serge Berten are presented, but also the accused:

  • Angel Anibal Guevara Rodriguez (°1925)
  • Donaldo Alvarez Ruiz (°1931)
  • Pedro Garcia Arredondo (°1944)
  • Manuel Benedicto Lucas Garcia (°1932)
  • Manuel Antonio Callejas Y Callejas (°1939)

Callejas Y Callejas was added by the public prosecutor itself during the course of the investigation.

We still had 3 others on our wishlist:

  • Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia
  • René Mendoz Palomo
  • German Chupina Barahona

But Belgium only prosecutes suspects who are alive, these last 3 left us before they could be held accountable.
The federal prosecutor will reveal the entire story, which will be supported by police officers, investigating judges and witnesses.

16:38 Civil party

The civil party takes the opportunity to address the jury.
Customary international law is invoked. Jurors are people drawn from the electoral lists and are rarely lawyers. They mainly assess facts, but these must be framed in the correct (criminal) laws, so that they can also express themselves correctly. Usually this is on the basis of the criminal code or other criminal laws. But because of the atypicality of this trial, customary international law is invoked, an additional challenge for the “lay jury”.
But this lay jury is clearly very concentrated and not detered by the dificulty.

Luc Walleyn, who represents the civil parties together with Michael Verhaeghe, spoke from experience, the Belgian jury also succeeded in the 3 Rwanda trials!

The reading of the indictment showed that the accused either have trouble remembering or did not notice anything. Police and army were interchangeable and very repressive.
Use is made of the legal concept of criminal participation an order to, or incitement to commit a crime is punishable and no papertrail is required for this.
Not the lower officers, non-commissioned officers nor soldiers are charged, but generals, ministers and the president (if he had not died) are charged. It is also not about suggestions, the order had to be carried out, there was no possibility to ignore illegal orders.

The International Criminal Court, Rwanda and ex-Yugoslavia tribunals have made legal history. But they are not alone, other national courts can also hear and sanction these cases.

Political and diplomatic efforts can be made to improve the world, but only in courts of law can the guilty be punished. Perpetrators who conspire to pursue a criminal goal become a “Joint Criminal Enterprise” (JCE).

The civil party was very satisfied with the indictment, which was very complete and illuminating.
The facts will make it clear that the accused, after judging them one by one, in their task, are the operators of a killing machine, with the intention to murder, torture and kidnap to achieve their objective, then they are a JCE , it’s a matter of proving this to the judges.

In closing

The president indicates who the witnesses are for the next day and then, as the law requires, he calls out the names of the witnesses to report if they are in the room and prevent their testimony from being influenced by what happens in the assize room.

After their testimony, they may take a seat in the room and continue to follow the process. But not before.