Our Voices

Seeking Justice in the Trial of Molina Theissen


Guatemala City, San José, Washington D.C. – April 11, 2018

On March 1, the High Risk tribunal C began the trial that will determine the criminal responsibility of five high-ranking officials accused of crimes against humanity for the arbitrary detention, torture and sexual violation of Emma Molina Theissen, and the forced disappearance of her fourteen-year-old brother, Marco Antonio.

The organizations that join this statement manifest our profound concern regarding the actions that aim to delay the judicial process for the Molina Theissen family, 37 years after the events occurred. At the same time, we publicly reject the practices that are re-victimizing the family and show a clear intent to intimidate those who participate in the process.

On April 9, the defense team of the accused perpetrators presented a request for recusal of the tribunal’s president, Pablo Xitumul, claiming that due to the forced disappearance of this father in 1981, the judge would be biased against the military and cannot be an impartial judge in this case. In light of this claim, the tribunal decided that the events described by the defense attorneys do not relate to the current case and that the accused were not on duty in Rabinal in 1981. At the same time, the tribunal assured that, contrary to the claims made by the defense, Judge Xitumul has neither a relationship nor enmity with any of the parties in the case and he has demonstrated absolute impartiality in the case, as it is due.

The defense attorneys appealed the tribunal’s decision. In light of these events, we warn that there are no objective causes for recusal. As such, we consider that the recusal should be rejected outright and the trial should continue without any further delay.

The tribunal responsible for this case has given just treatment to the accused perpetrators and has worked to ensure guarantees of due process throughout. This claim is inadmissible and represents a malicious attempt to obstruct justice.

On the other hand, during the trial, the accused perpetrators and their representatives attempted to delegitimize the process by accusing the tribunal of lacking impartiality and by referring to the process as “a sham,” as expressed by Benedicto Lucas García, former Chief of Staff of Guatemala’s army in 1981, during his declaration. Along those lines, families of the accused perpetrators have intimidated participants of the process and their attorneys have revealed protected witnesses’ confidential information.

It is important to remember that in 2004, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a sentence against Guatemala for this case and ordered, among other measures, to guarantee justice for the grave violations perpetrated against the family. In 2015, the Court reminded Guatemala of its obligation to “investigate, prosecute and sanction without allowing (delaying) tactics to create obstacles and obstruct access to justice for the victims.”

As such, we urge authorities to guarantee that the trial continues without obstacles and with guarantees of due process for all parties involved in the trial. We demand that this trial demonstrates a restorative process that does not re-victimize the families who have continued to seek justice for almost four decades.

Signatory organizations:

Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF)
Impunity Watch
Plataforma Internacional contra la Impunidad
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Washington Office on Latin American (WOLA)