Guatemala: Rape sentences in landmark military trial

media captionVictims, who say they are still stigmatized, cheered as the men were sentenced

A Guatemala court has sentenced two former members of the military to 360 years in jail for the murder, rape and sexual enslavement of indigenous women.

Francisco Reyes Giron and Heriberto Valdez Asij were found guilty of crimes against humanity.

The historic ruling is the first successful prosecution for sexual violence committed during Guatemala's military conflict in the 1980s.

There were jubilant scenes in court as the judge read out the sentence.

"This is historic, it is a great step for women and above all for the victims," said Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, who attended the hearing.

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image captionThere were jubilant scenes in court when the verdict was announced

Francisco Reyes Giron, who was the commander of the Sepur Zarco military base, was found guilty of holding 15 women in sexual and domestic slavery and for killing one woman and her two daughters.

Heriberto Valdez Asij, a paramilitary who carried out commissions for the army, was convicted for the same enslavement, as well as the forced disappearance of seven men.

The victims have been demanding accountability for the crimes at Sepur Zarco for decades.

"We were raped, all of this happened. If it wasn't like this, where are our husbands? We don't know where they are," said Demesia Yac, 70, who acted as a representative for the women.

The court had heard harrowing details about what went on at the base in the eastern highlands during the 1980s.

According to the prosecution, in 1982 armed forces repeatedly attacked the village of Sepur Zarco and killed or took away Mayan leaders who had been applying for land titles and had angered local landowners.

The men were accused of being associated with left-wing guerrillas.

Agustin Chen, one of the men who survived said the soldiers took him to a cell and beat him every day.

"They killed seven people, throwing two grenades into the pit where they had put them."

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image captionFormer base commander, Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Giron (R) was sentened to 120 years in prison
image copyrightEPA
image captionHeriberto Valdez Asij, a military commissioner, received a sentence of 240 years

The court heard how military commanders considered the women to be "available" without their men and had then taken them into sexual and domestic slavery.

They were required to report every third day to the base for "shifts" during which they were raped, sexually abused, and forced to cook and clean for the soldiers.

In a report to the court, anthropologist Irma Alicia Velasquez Nimatuj said military outposts were installed in the region "to give security to the landowner's farms and to take possession of the lands".

For some of the victims, their ordeal lasted as long as six years until the base was closed in 1988.

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