Testimony From Daniel Guzmán Helps Establish Legal Precedent for Prosecution of Forced Disappearances
Expert testimony by Benetech statistician Daniel Guzmán provided key evidence in the conviction of two former police officers who were found guilty in the 1984 forced disappearance of Guatemalan union leader Edgar Fernando García. In an extraordinary ruling by the Guatemalan Supreme Court, two former agents of the Guatemalan National Police, Abraham Lancerio Gómez and Héctor Roderico Ramírez, were each sentenced to the maximum term of 40 years in prison for their role in García’s disappearance.
The verdicts against Gómez and Ramírez have established forced disappearance as a crime in the Guatemalan judicial system and prompted government prosecutors to investigate higher ranking officers for their possible role in the case. The Guatemalan National Police were disbanded after the country’s 1996 Peace Accords which ended 36 years of internal armed conflict. The Recovery of Historical Memory (REMHI) Project led by the Catholic Church estimates that more than 40,000 Guatemalans disappeared during this time. “I feel proud to have been able to support justice in Guatemala with my statistical, technical contribution,” said Guzmán. “Most importantly, García’s family is starting to believe some kind of justice is possible.”
Together with members of the Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group, Guzmán has been analyzing a random sample of the 31.7 million documents contained in the Guatemalan National Police Archive. Guzmán calculated the percentage of documents about García known by different police units to support the prosecution’s argument that Gómez and Ramírez were involved in García’s disappearance.
This is the first prosecution in the Guatemalan judicial system based primarily on Archive documents and paves the way for judges to trust these records as evidence in future human rights cases. “My testimony helped build a case that the police knew about these disappearances,” says Guzmán. “If you can show that such documents exist in the archive, you can keep searching for these kinds of records.”
By calculating the percentage of documents known by different police command structures, Guzmán presented findings about relationships among security forces and communications between the army and police. This evidence is critical because historical data has shown that the Guatemalan army was the force most involved in human rights violations against civilians. Prosecutors in the García case hypothesized that the National Police may have carried out crimes against civilians ordered by the army. Read more about the García case here.
“I regret very much everything that happened, but justice has been done,” García’s mother María García told PrensaLibre.com. “Now there will be many others seeking justice because it is not fair that the disappearance of 45,000 Guatemalans should go unpunished.”
Benetech is a nonprofit technology company based in Palo Alto, California. Benetech pursues projects with a strong social rather than financial rate of return on investment, harnessing open source technology to create innovative solutions to challenging social issues. The Benetech Human Rights Program designs and builds information management solutions and conducts statistical analysis on behalf of truth commissions and large human rights projects around the world. The program includes the Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group and the Martus project. The Benetech Bookshare service is the world’s largest accessible online library of copyrighted books for people with print disabilities. Benetech’s most recent project, Miradi, is a user-friendly software program that helps environmental conservation groups design, manage, monitor and learn from their projects.