In April and May 2017, Paulina Hernandez ‘09 and Alicia LeDuc ‘09 interviewed plaintiffs, attorneys, and members of the Alliance to Break the Silence and Impunity involved in litigating the precedent-setting 2016 Sepur Zarco case in Guatemala, in support of research for a forthcoming law review article about the case.
The case marked the first time a national court prosecuted sexual slavery as a crime against humanity, and was the first instance of Guatemalan courts prosecuting sexual violence relating to the country’s Internal Armed Conflict period. During the 1980s, members of the Guatemalan military “disappeared” a group of men and forced their surviving widows into domestic and sexual slavery at the Sepur Zarco military base.
In the context of cultural norms supporting race- and gender-based discrimination, the Alliance members formed a comprehensive litigation, communications, and psycho-social support model that resulted in the effective testimony and participation of 15 victim-plaintiffs sustained over nearly a decade to ultimately convict two military officials, sentenced to over 100 years of imprisonment, for crimes committed at the base. As of 2017, the conviction has withstood appeal.
This presentation provided an overview of the case history, details on the Alliance members and their comprehensive impact litigation strategy, a discussion of evidentiary and procedural aspects of the case, and a short comparison of the U.S. and Guatemalan court systems. Overall, the program evaluated the Sepur Zarco case as a potential model for small or low-capacity entities to create strategic alliances in order to successfully prosecute human rights cases to effect policy change.