A trial started in Guatemala Wednesday for five former paramilitary soldiers accused of sexually abusing 36 indigenous Mayan women some 40 years ago during the country’s civil war.
The five are former members of Guatemala’s Civil Self-Defense Patrols (PAC) blamed for several atrocities during the 1960-1996 war in which an estimated 200,000 people were killed or disappeared.
They will take part via videoconference from the Mariscal Zavala jail where they are being detained for crimes committed between 1981 and 1985 around the town of Rabinal, north of the capital Guatemala City.
The population of Rabinal was particularly hard hit by the war. A mass grave with the bodies of more than 3,000 people was discovered in the area.
Thirty-six women have come forward in the last decade with accusations of sexual violence committed against them during that time.
The identities of most of the women are being withheld for their own security, said their lawyer Lucia Xiloj.
Some have already given recorded evidence to investigators, which will be played in court.
Only five of the victims have opted to be present for the trial before Judge Jazmin Barrios in the Supreme Court of Justice.
According to Xiloj, many Mayan women “were raped after the (forced) disappearance of their husbands” by paramilitaries and soldiers.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu told reporters at the court that Guatemala had failed to “fulfill its obligation to defend these sisters who were raped, tortured, humiliated and subjected to (sexual) slavery during so many years of armed conflict.”
A United Nations truth commission documented 669 massacres committed during Guatemala’s civil war, of which 93 percent were attributed to government forces.