On December 4 2023 in Leuven, Belgium, a trial will begin against five former Guatemalan military and officials accused of arbitrary detentions, torture, forced disappearances, murders and other crimes against humanity against Belgian missionaries of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary during the military dictatorship of Romeo Lucas García (1978-1982).
The accused held high positions during the Guatemalan military dictatorship, and the Belgian justice accuses them of planning, ordering and supervising the crimes against the Belgian missionaries. The accused are:
General Ángel Aníbal Guevara, Minister of Defense at the time
General Benedicto Lucas García, Chief of the Army Staff
General Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas, Head of the Intelligence (G2)
Donaldo Álvarez Ruiz, Minister of the Interior
Pedro García Arredondo, Head of Command 6 of the National Police
The victims are:
Priest Walter Vordeckeres, murdered on 12 May 1980 in front of the parish of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, Escuintla
Missionary Ward Capiu, murdered on 22 October 1981 in San Lucas Sacatepéquez
Missionary Serge Berten, disappeared on 19 January 1982 in Calzada San Juan, zone 19 of Guatemala City. It is known that he was taken to a clandestine detention centre, where he was tortured and later murdered. His body is still missing.
Priest Paul Schildermans was arbitrarily detained on 4 January 1982 in the parish of Nueva Concepción, Escuintla, along with Guatemalan priest Paredes Aragon. Moments before the arrest, the parish sacristan were murdered. Father Schildermans was taken to a clandestine prison in Mazatenango where he was tortured. He was finally released on 6 January 1982.
In this case, the Law on the Repression of Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law contemplated in article 136 of the Belgian Penal Code will apply, which applies to Belgian citizens who are victims of crimes against humanity anywhere in the world.
The jury is made up of 12 Belgian citizens and the trial will be held in absentia, meaning the accused and their lawyers will not be present, because several of them are in prison in Guatemala for crimes against humanity in other cases.
Impunity Watch celebrates the beginning of this important trial for universal jurisdiction and expresses its solidarity with the families of the victims and the Guatebelgas organisation who have sought justice for more than 20 years. The trial is expected to last two weeks and the verdict will be known around 15 December 2023.
2023, Impunity Watch