Day 2

I was a little late, forgot my pillow

9:29 Interrogations of investigating judges and police officers

The investigating judges and police officers introduce themselves and take the oath.
Investigating judge Burm is stuck in Munich because of the weather, the airport is closed.

A powerpoint is presented.

They provide an overview of the file and the investigations.

Civil Party Complaint at the investigating judge

The victims’ relatives took the initiative by filing civil proceedings, which means that they request an investigation from the investigating judge, possibly paying some kind of deposit. Usually an investigating judge is appointed by the public prosecutor’s office, but this is a path for those with some stubbornness.

Context Guatemala

From the start of the republic, the peasants were exploited.

United fruit company, starts investing in Guatemala.

In 1945, 10 years of real democracy begin with Arévalo and Árbenz president, the “Guatemalan Spring”. The land reform of 1953 is not well received by the United Fruit Company, they lose land (there is compensation and it concerns vacant land) with the help of the US and CIA there is a coup, the land is donated back to the United Fruit Company . The civil war started in 1960. The repression starts, the system of “national security” starts throughout Latin America

The anti-communist position of the army is spread through Scuela de las Americas to the training of lower cadres. Goal: eradicate communism and armed insurrection with death squads, torture, murder and disappearances. And this with students, politicians,… first by private individuals, later taken over by the army.

From September 1981, the PACs (vigilantes) were formed, civilians were obliged to participate in violent acts by the army.

In 1982, EGP, FAR, ORPA and PGT-NDN united in the URNG (Guerilla). On December 29, 1996, the civil war ended after 200,000 murders and disappearances and 440 villages completely destroyed

The role of the Catholic Church

At first she was a supporter of anti-communism (1962-65), but as a result of the Medillin bishops’ conference the emphasis is on the excluded, the bishops of Latin America are moving towards the formation of basic ecclesiastical communities. Scheutists in Esquintla were engaged in pastoral formation work in basic communities, in 1978 CUC committee for peasant unity, intensive contribution, cooperative, parish employees and catechists, taking positions and thus coming into conflict with large landowners, companies and government.

The investigation

The investigating judge is appointed by the king at the court of first instance, they conduct an investigation à charge and à decharge, when the investigation is complete they pass it on to the public prosecutor’s office to make the claim.

The investigating judge, as an independent magistrate, may carry out more investigative acts than the public prosecutor’s office, such as home searches, taps, expertises and he can also ask questions as the public prosecutor’s office can do to foreign governments.

The investigating judge has no authority abroad, he can go there as a guest of the local authorities and then depends on their actions.

Sometimes there are agreements, not in the case of Guatemala. Guatemala had the liaison officer who did a lot of massage work, after all, it was about authority figures. The context was also special, with a former military dictatorship, and those people are still around there. They ask for statements from victims through the Guatemalan machine, which they do not necessarily trust.

But for the foreign inquiry the cooperation was smooth, taking into account the typical situation.

Sometimes there was no response to the requests for legal assistance, not only from Guatemala. International legal assistance played an essential role in this.

Initially, the following steps were taken:

  • Complaint confirmation
  • First interrogations, transfer of documentation
  • Request foreign affairs file
  • contacts Amnesty International /HRM
  • Further research
  • Questions and interpellations in the House and Senate
  • Letters of rogatory (Spain, Germany, Guatemala, Vatican City, USA,…)
  • Translations and analyzes documents
  • Rehmi report (nunca mas) and report of the truth commission (CEH)
  • The accused
  • In many of the interrogations, the context was first outlined. A context of very heavy repression, there is de facto no rule of law.

From the ambassadors we remember:

The great inequality, Indian population has no say. It fits in with the cold war, liberation theology, and the targeting of clergy.

The government starts investigations into disappearances or murders but never produces results.
Serge had distanced himself from Scheut, hence the lukewarm response from the nuncio in contrast to Paul Schildermans. Walter’s murder was a political murder, and therefore no investigation, no explanation.

The interests of large landowners, the ruling political leaders and military apparatus. Ambassador Willy Stevens was convinced that official documents had to exist. He was sure Serge was kidnapped by the army.

An anonymous witness was brought in via Amnesty International. He had disappeared and murdered relatives. Harrowing stories. Disappeared often not found, or a bound and tortured corpse in the ditch. He wanted to add his complaint. The general context was outlined. He also wanted to hand over a list of murdered and kidnapped victims of the regime, including people who were “sniffed out” under torture. They were either liquidated afterwards or became informants. The list also shows how names were mentioned and how these people were later arrested. There was a clear system. American clerics have undergone the same experience. The document was also later submitted via Kate Doyle. This was even more extensive. It indicates the planning. “code 300 = liquidation”, “se fué x” = liquidated in flight.

Anonymous witness was spokesperson for the Minister of the Interior (Alvarez Ruiz), he indicated what the situation was, but was close to the center of power. He indicated that there was a national murder program. There must still be documents available here and there. This was also often done by the EGP, devised by the Minister of Home Affairs. There is a document from various advisors (USA, Chile, etc.) on how the population should be suppressed and eliminated. After Amnesty International’s visit to the Minister of the Interior, where he stated “there are no political prisoners”, he said, laughing, “there are none, because they are all dead”.
There are links between the various ministries and the death squads. He also refers to Arredondo and command 6. (political crimes, orders from Chupina) Foreign religious were seen as responsible for making the population aware of their situation and that was not desired.

ESA (secret anti-communist army) was part of the army. The policia judicial depended on national police, and a commando 6 was created to act without the intervention of judges.

Francisco Harren (deceased Scheutist) was pastor in la democracia, Esquintla, and lived with Rios Montt, he was his confidant, from 1969, Medillin, there was a different approach to the church, progressive with a new pastoral approach. This was turned a blind eye to, but was not permitted by all clergy and the church. The CUC was founded in Esquintla, mainly under the influence of Mario Coolen. Bishop Rios Montt let them have their way. After the murder of Oscar Romero in El Salvador, Rios Montt supported more.


Liberation theology aimed to support the poor and people who were experiencing difficulties. Because of Walter’s commitment to the poor, he was already portrayed as a communist. Religious were seen as communists and enemies of the state. Due to the doctrine of state security, Walter was seen as a subversive element, he organized somethings, was involved with the poor population. Threats, by telephone, inscriptions. It was uncomfortable and risky. Walter has always refused to leave Guatemala.

The atmosphere in the fincas became very grim. Walter used harsh language against the finceros, his sermons were very fierce and have remained so, there were informers (orejas, tape recorders) in the church, the barbershop at the church was known for that.

After the murder of Walter, Bishop Rios Montt (brother of later dictator Rios Montt) rearranges his perlature, a meeting is held and a letter from Walter Widmann, a large landowner who admonishes the bishop to keep his priests in line and not to to meddle in politics. Antoon Van De Meulebroecke (deceased Scheutist) still had a cassette of that meeting, on the basis of which Widman’s letter was recompiled.

The bishop no longer wanted Walter Widmann to pay a contribution to the church.

Sabine Mortier (sister of the “jacht”) Was in Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, heard shots, sister of the “jacht”. 1 year later she was also threatened by the ESA

What did the justice of the peace do after Walter’s murder? It had burned down, no archives, no fire brigade archives. ESA pamphlets against Walter were not found. There is a pamphlet from 1978 with various death threats to others.

During the interrogation of the medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Walter, it turned out that there was no autopsy report. He did remember the very extensive damage to the organs. Bullet casings were discovered, all of which should have been part of the government’s investigation, but the documents of the investigation were never found.

The investigation received exceptionallythe direct reports from the nuncio to the Vatican from the Vatican These were reports from just after the facts. On May 16, 1980, 2 weeks after Conrado’s kidnapping and just after Walter’s murder.

Before Walter’s murder, in the opinion of those present, the attitude of the National Police was surprising they were right by the murder and didn’t intervene or investigate

Conrado de la Cruz and his sexton were kidnapped on May 1 by heavily armed men in civilian clothes who dragged them into a jeep without license plates.
The Nuncio tries to intervene with the authorities for the disappeared Conrado. He tries on May 3/4, but cannot get in touch with the government, but he does get in touch through the cardinal. Bishop Rios Montt sues Supreme Court for Habeas Corpus.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs says, after Walter’s murder, that anyone who colors outside the lines must suffer the consequences: “We will not tolerate communists dressed up as priests in Guatemala.”

Monsignor Bivenzi (Nunciature) writes to his superiors that he has heard from a credible source that the president’s system of a crusade against communism is trying to destroy everything that smells of communism.

The vice president is in despair about the situation and sends a letter to church leaders, requesting the moral authority of the pope.

Paul Schildermans

Paul Schildermans barely survived his encounter with the regime, but tells the story and explains how he was kidnapped and tortured. Armed men invade his parsonage. He and his visitor are kidnapped, gagged. They end up in a school, everything is very structured. The interrogation started by a captain, they were looking for Serge Berten, he had not seen him for a long time. Hadn’t been to the parsonage for years.
A particularly painful product was injected into their eyes and it took a long time for the pain to stop.

Oscar, José, Guillermo (former CUC members) are also present during the interrogation. People ask about Mario Coolen, Serge Berten and Vicky, a Spanish army nurse. They suspect that they were interrogated by Pelecer (a Jesuit who probably switched to the regime under the influence of severe torture and helped them).

At some point they notice a change and then things loosen up a little and then they end up in a vehicle, they are treated more kindly, they drive for a number of hours, the cuffs are removed and then they are dropped off at the nuncio. The nuncio catches them and they go inside.
This statement can be seen in the context of other statements such as that of Bishop Rios Montt. The nuncio has intervened. Because the guard at Paul was shot by the guard’s half-brother who was a soldier, it was clear that they had been kidnapped and the intervention had an effect. This intervention was not always there.

The minister of defense visited the Nuncio and showed copies of 2 documents that had been found and that were disturbing the army, according to Paul they were not in his rectory.
The nuncio was told that Paul Schildermans had to leave the country, which happened.

Local commander Colonel Abadia is said to have said that he would put a bullet in the head of that pastor.

Serge Berten

°1952-07-13, studies at the IPSOC to become a social assistant, leaves for Guatemala on April 1, 1975 as a trainee lay helper in a pastoral context. (via Volen’s volunteer status that is extended until September 81) He goes to Tiquisate and la Nueva Coneption. Took his perpetual vows and had time until 1981 to resume studies. Went to Belgium and then back to Guatemala 1981-09-28, in 1981-10-12 signs statement that he releases Scheut from any responsibility this document was authenticated by lawyer.

On 1982-01-19, Serge falls victim to a violent kidnapping, on January 21, Ambassador Lansloot is informed by anonymous telephone. The Ambassador contacts ministers and nuncio, the latter does not intervene. 1981-02-10 the national police is requested to investigate. (the Belgian detective never saw anything of a real investigation)

Enrique Corral Alonso, who himself was able to escape the kidnapping of Serge and others. Enrique indicates that Serge was a member of the EGP, for political education, not the military structure. He did not have the impression that they were being followed, but that it was a coincidence, but that the company stood out. Kidnapping fits into the government’s plan. He didn’t hear anything from Serge afterwards, except rumors. But nothing workable.

The reports from the monitoring service for the national police detectives showed many activities without many details before the day of Serge’s disappearance. It took until 1984 before it was discovered, according to reports, that he had returned to the country.

The police services were well aware of Serge’s situation (disconnection Scheut, etc.) Ambassador Landschot also provided information about the disconnection.

Ward Capiau

Born in Opbrakel (°1950-01-07), social assistant.
In May-August 1980 he was in Belgiumand told he had a relationship with Juventina. He never said it was armed resistance.
On October 22, the US embassy received news of a corpse that appeared to be Western. He was identified through other embassies. Killed by 6 bullets and buried in mass cemetery on October 24, 1981.
Juventina recognizes the clothing
There are three versions:

  • Shot by the army during an escape attempt,
  • Agreement with rival resistance group that went wrong
  • In 1999, Garcia, a fellow resistance fighter from EGP, testifies about a conversation with Ward Capiau about transfer and noticed the plane, they ended the conversation, everyone went their own way, Garcia saw 2 pickups and saw that they shot Ward, never found bullet casings by Americans.

Guatemala Inquiry

Bishop Rios Mont

Prelate of Esquintla, responsible of the Catholic Church of Esquintla. He was appointed bishop in 1974. And he knew Walter very well and had a good and frequent relationship. Walter had a strong character. He knew about threats by post, telephone, and also through confidential counselors.
After the funeral, he was called to the president’s residence, where he was told that he was surrounded by communists at the funeral, but he was particularly struck by the heavily armed army vehicles. Montalban and Chupina were present during that morning-long conversation. According to Montalban he was a communist, he replied that they would have to prove it.
He was advised to bury Walter, nothing more.
The nuncio’s intervention was not possible with Conrado.
A judge, possibly a justice of the peace, told him that nothing more could be done.
He did not accuse anyone during his sermon, but he did say that the government should investigate because that was the law.
The army and the landowners wanted to execute someone, as an example, whether he was important or not.
There was a strong army detachment in SLCotz and Esquintla and an air force detachment in Puerto San José.

The suspects

They were interrogated by Guatemalan authorities.

  • Benedicto Lucas Garcia
  • Chupina Barahona
  • Pedro Garcia Arredondo
  • Mendoza Palombo
  • Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas (later interrogated not in the presence of the Belgian delegation)

The accused saw nothing, did nothing, heard nothing.

Menoza Palomo, tried to intimidate the Belgian delegation, they were asked to skip town, they don’t know the law, they shouldn’t be there.

The suspects have always been able to rely on a lawyer during their interrogations.

A number of witnesses refused requests for legal assistance and possibly hired a lawyer, so they were not questioned.
The Guatemalan government was very formalistic, a lot of paper, a lot of court intervention and even more paper.

16:13 Christian Tomuschat

87 years old, law professor, German and took his oath in Dutch.

He has been in the Emirita since 1995.

He has an extensive background as a legal scholar in Germany and was a member of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. This committee consists of 18 independent members.

He was asked if he would be willing to coordinate a truth commission. A Guatemalan of Indian origin, second Guatemalan lawyer, and he as 3rd neutral position. It was a big challenge. It resulted in the CEH report.

It was also a great honor and also for the Federal Republic of Germany to lead the truth commission, after the history of Germany during the Nazis.

He was very happy to do it, it was difficult because it was at the express request of the UN, following the example of Argentina and Chile, to clarify what had happened to achieve this situatioin. This relied on an agreement between the government and the guerrilla. There were 4 different guerrillas that together became UNRG. After early 1966 and the end of the 1980s, the government had realized that it could not enforce it through force alone. It was difficult in the beginning because they could not be put at the same table with revolutionaries, but then, under the influence of the church, various agreements were worked on in order to achieve peace step by step via the Oslo agreement, thus creating a complete peace treaty. December 1996 treaty was concluded, and with that the question of the truth commission also became acute. Tomuschat was asked to become the chairman as coordinator, based on previous experiences. Setting up the committee was difficult because the UN had not provided the funds. But first the commissioners had to find the budgets, they tried to get the millions through the Western embassies, not to pay the commissioners, but to give a voice to the victims of the violence, in order to achieve a report to come. “So we couldn’t work with a main office in the capital, but there had to be regional offices throughout the country, so that people have the opportunity to report the truth there. We employed 200 people for 2 years. They then had to write their reports in the offices. It wasn’t that easy in the beginning because people didn’t know who we were and thought we were from the government, but we were completely independent.” Norway and Sweden were the first to provide them with $1 million. Commissioners were not paid, but costs such as hotel and transport were reimbursed. “We have tried the most we were able to. Getting the government to cooperate was especially difficult. We wanted to know how the military worked. And how this was reported. The military has always stated that there was no reporting. We only received the annual reports. Always very general, but it became clear what the attitude was towards the Indian population. It was clear that these were racially oriented, according to the army the Indian population was not the real population. However, they were part of the security apparatus. The officers were white.” “We took part in many things, including excavating mass graves. We also traveled around to support the regional offices. In the Northwest it was used by women to talk about their experiences, it seemed like a therapeutic experience. For the first time they could speak to someone who understood them.” These statements had to be bundled. Those were the last months of their time in Guatemala. Their mandate was only supposed to be 6 months, but after a short time it became clear that reporting on a 30-year civil war with 200,000 victims was impossible, so the period was extended several times. That was an informal agreement. It is mainly the individual testimonies that formed the basis of the reporting. They therefore decided that it was insufficient to include individual statements. They explained the background, but the choice was made to document certain paradigmatic cases. They have described a lot of strange events to make clear the human rights violations, this is a work of several volumes. It was not just about showing history, but also about making suggestions for the future.

“It was clear to us that the future of the population must be in the hands of the population, and so it was not useful to pretend to be omniscient, but it was proposed to create a social forum where they could indicate how the relationships should be.” This took 2 or 3 days, but it was a huge success. Many NGOs have come together with reports on what should be done, a very long list of proposals. But they had to stay within certain limits. They were aware that not every damage could be paid out, but the worst damage would have to be compensated. The recommendation also includes honoring the victims and memories of the past. “Our recommendations were never excessive. We want to contribute, we could only give advice, but the responsibility lay with Guatemalan society.”

The basis was that the government did not see the Indians as the real population, and there was no representation of them in the government.
The Catholic Church was seen as an enemy, but there was also division within the church.

Assessor’s question: Have there been any lawsuits against the repression?
Tomuschat knows of no lawsuits, there was simply no prosecution, justice was paralyzed. You couldn’t get anything by complaint, there was no help from the state, and sometimes the guerrilla intimidated the population.
No lawsuits during the commission’s works.
From his report he said that ordinary social engagement was seen as subversive. It was an inter-Guatemalan struggle between classes within the country, and anyone who stood up for social justice faced persecution.

He tried to interrogate Lucas Garcia to pin him down on the situation. It didn’t work out in the 6 hours, he was a fan of France and the army of France, and they never got to the bottom of the matter.

What about paramilitary groups?

He stands behind the report and the text in it. The intention was to provide the foundations for a new constitutional democracy. But the government found it difficult. We had hoped to find a movement for a new democracy after all these publications.

Tomuschat sees Walter Voordeckers as an example of the fact that pursuing social justice was seen as subversive.

He hopes that what is happening now in Guatemala will come to a good end with the new president, the son of a president who brings social justice. But the situation does not look good with the démarches of the government and Congress.

17:42 Iduvina Hernández
Journalist, human rights defender, head of CEDEM, founded in Guatemala in 2000

Looks for mechanisms for democratic control in security and intelligence services. And that is why research is being conducted into counter insurgency by the state and army of Guatemala. Also declassification of the archives of the army and police, which were passed on to the human rights prosecutor. These were also analyzed for serious violations of human rights and also by the government and military from 1970-1995 (end of the civil war).

Scorched earth and axes were army terminology to describe their plans, which plans, design and execution were the responsibility of the army general staff. That was the responsibility of whoever sat in the chair and to whom the intelligence services report.

The doctrine of national security had 2 axes, concentration of tasks against the insurgent movements in the army and the construction of an internal enemy against whom action had to be taken.

Anyone who raised voices to defend human rights was considered an internal enemy.

In the late 1980s, the policy was that applying the law was insufficient to suppress insurgent activity. And therefore instead of charging people before legal bodies, other mechanisms were created. That is why police or army groups were arranged to arrest and kidnap people. They kidnapped people who were considered internal enemies.

Those who were taken, often to police infrastructure without keeping records, were tortured. Sometimes there were also soldiers who took part.
Sometimes they were taken to a military installation or they were killed by the police themselves, who disappeared the bodies from places under their control.
The army then tortured further. If they did survive, they were murdered and then disposed of the bodies.
As in Coban in Alta Verapaz, 500 missing have been excavated. Of which 150 bodies have already been identified. The bodies were located on military property.
A pit containing the bodies of dozens of people was also found in the cemetery in the capital. Or they were found in the street and marked with xx were taken to the morgue. Xx = unknown.

Who is G2 now known as military intelligence?
It was known in 1980 as G2, which together with G3, the executive unit, G1 personnel, G4 logistics, were the 4 units of general staff of the army. From 1985 it was called the General Staff of National Defense. The chief was the general of the army. He was the chief of the chiefs of G1,2,3,4

How has the G2 had an influence?
It was the central intelligence organization. In the communication hierarchy, it didn’t actually follow this channel. It was a direct channel of communication and actions from the bottom level through the Chief of G2 to the Chief of Army.
For example: base near a village, the commander communicated to a higher level, and so on. But the G2 channel went straight up.

What was their role in the fight against the internal enemy?
The G2 was responsible for the kidnappings, torture, rapes and murders. According to CEH, 250,000 victims, of which 50,000 disappeared, and of those, 5,000 girls and boys disappeared. These are official data from the UN. It would concern more people, but some families did not dare testify, it is the most known figure but it could be an underestimate.

Commando 6, a unit within the national police, worked with G2 to kidnap people whose arrest was ordered by the military. They were founded for that purpose.

During what period were G2 and Commando 6 active?
Late 1970s, around 77, and Commando 6 until 1982, and also G2 until 1982, when after the coup, G2 was renamed to Directorate of Intelligence (D2). Commando 6 continued to function until another unit took over. Basically stood without orders from the army.

What about the ESA and death squads?
Paramilitary structures, they were under the command of the army, but without an official legal connection with the army. ESA drew up lists of communists and guerrillas to eliminate. For example, the head of the students was on a published list of 20, and was assassinated in 1978, after giving a speech at the end of a demonstration commemorating the October revolution. As far as the investigation could find out, the ESA list and the assassination had been carried out by Commando 6

National security doctrine, was the church targeted?
Yes, especially priests, missionaries and nuns, who spoke about the choice for the poor, liberation theology. And who also contributed to the people who were in danger because they defend their country or seek a better life for their community. It is very sad to visit some churches in villages of Guatemala and see memorial plaques where a priest or missionary was murdered. And it is still possible to hear witnesses of those cases who suffer from the loss of their pastor. The brutal murder of Gerardi, for example, after presenting a dossier on human rights, is a clear example of how the state persecuted the representatives of the Catholic Church to the death.

The various accused were discussed one by one, asked about their role and whether they could stop the terror. Each time the answer was that they had an important part and were able to stop it and denounce it, but they were part of the system.

A jury member asked how G2 was worked from top to bottom.
Normally the G2 and the Chief of the Army were provided with that information. The information emerged and then was at the level of general staff and G2. When it came to victims because they had a certain profile, the Minister of Defense was also used and in G2 the plans were made, it was decided who should implement and the resources were made available and implemented and then the implementation was communicated.

19:06 Closing

A lighter program was expected and hopefully an earlier ending. (The jury started laughing)