Sepur Zarco a Milestone for Indigenous Women in Guatemala
Group: Ixchel Women’s Collective (Colectivo Mujeres Ixchel)
Department: National and international.
From the voice of: Cristina Chiquín, coordinator.
In March 2016, after 5 years of legal proceedings and 22 hearings, the Supreme Court of Guatemala condemned two ex-military officers for crimes against humanity (rape, murder and slavery), and 18 reparation measures were granted to survivors and their communities. It was the first time in history that a national court prosecuted charges of sexual slavery during conflict by applying national legislation together with international criminal law. The sentence in the Sepur Zarco case set a precedent in the Guatemalan legal system. Throughout the process two organizations were involved in contributing content to the demands within the Peace Accords, and one of them was Ixchel Women’s Collective.
In 1982, during the Guatemalan armed conflict and on the Sepur Zarco military base, located in the department of Alta Verapas in the northern region of the country, multiple crimes against humanity were committed against women’s bodies. In the midst of agrarian reform measures, indigenous communities demanded historical claims to their lands. In response, armed forces assassinated the men and forced women into domestic servitude and sexual slavery. This did not only occur in the Sepur Zarco community; the denigration of indigenous women, physical abuse, repeated rape and gender-based violence were common practices over the course of 36 years of armed conflict in Guatemala.
Twenty-eight years later, in 2010, a group of 15 indigenous women spoke openly about their experiences and brought the case into the public light so as to ignite a process that would bring about change. The result went beyond receiving a sentence from a judge and all of the reparation measures that were ordered; the case inspired other women that have suffered sexual violence during times of war to seek legal counsel and justice.
As a direct result of the Sepur Zarco case, 50 more cases of sexual violence and slavery during the Guatemalan armed conflict were opened for investigation.
The Ixchel Women’s Collective’s involvement in the case
Ixchel Women’s Collective, together with the Young Mayans Movement (Movimiento de Jóvenes Mayas – MOJOMAYAS) and the National Coordinator of Guatemalan Widows (Coordinadora Nacional de Viudas de Guatemala – CONAVIGUA) – the umbrella organization that saw the birth of MOJOMAYAS – accompanied and supported the indigenous women plaintiffs throughout the whole process, united as a movement to increase the visibility of the case. Through photojournalism, we were able to tell more people around the world about the Sepur Zarco case, evidencing the reality of what was happening in the country.
Before the Sepur Zarco and genocide case trials, people disavowed the repression that occurred during the armed conflict and civil war. That’s why we feel it’s important and necessary to show what happened, because despite the Peace Accords violence continues to attack women’s bodies. Systemic violence continues, and not just common violence, but violence by the State against women’s bodies.
With Sepur Zarco, we saw that it was necessary to document these cases, display them, because it happened and it continues to happen. Women are the ones that have been carrying forward the struggle to remember, women are the ones that have put our bodies on the line, and women are the ones giving our voices for justice to be served.
Training, communication and feminist political research
We are an autonomous Guatemalan feminist collective that strives to reaffirm the struggle and resistance of women inside and outside of Guatemala. We promote training, research, communication and cyber-feminism, so that issues such as street harassment, decriminalization of abortion, the right to choose, sexual and reproductive rights and other issues related to women’s rights achieve greater visibility.
We also work to train diverse women, youth, activists and human rights defenders, because we believe that it is important that they have the feminist political tools and a knowledge base about the body, sexuality, the feminist movement, and feminist history. In these spaces, women receive training over a course of several months, and also contribute to political discussions. Over five years, we have strengthened more than 150 women in feminist political knowledge with critical thinking.
Our communication work has also had an important impact. We did not have a physical space, but doing this work over the internet has been powerful. We recognize that we can reach many people. The media in Guatemala also recognizes our work in photographic documentation. Photography is only a tool, but women are the ones that have brought about change through their struggle.
We began our work as young women, however, along the way we have realized that there are women that are not necessarily that young, but are just entering the feminist movement and often they have not been heard nor seen because they were not activists before now. We want more women to have this awakening and continue contributing to the movement. We are also motivated by the new young feminist wave and being able to contribute in those spaces. We are motivated to continue working on photographic documentation and feminist political education.