January 22, 2022

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“I was detained and raped for 25 nights”

Paulina Ixtaba is one of 36 Achi women from Robinhal. Lucia Siloz

It was a normal Sunday for Paulina Ixtaba.

He was 19 years old and was walking with his mother to the municipal seat of the town of Rabinal in central Guatemala, about 100 km from the capital.

“Some people approach my mom and say,‘ We want to talk to your daughter, ’” Paulina says BBC MundoHe remembered that lucky afternoon in 1983 when his life changed.

They were approached by members of the Civil Defense Patrol (PAC): paramilitary groups formed by the then Guatemalan military government with the argument that civilians should be involved in the protection of the country’s municipalities against violence. Threat of left-wing guerrilla groups.

Today, almost 40 years later, in that episode, five former members of the Robinel PAC face the historic judicial process of allegedly raping 36 Achi women from that Mayan municipality. Palina is one of the alleged victims.

“You’re going to meet your husband later”

Ricoberta Menzu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, accompanied Robin’s Achi women at the beginning of their trial. Getty Images

That Sunday afternoon, non-uniformed patrolmen took Paulina to a local military unit. She is not the only girl there.

“When I got to the unit, they said to me, ‘Where is your husband?’ I told them I did not have a husband, to which they replied: ‘You are going to meet your husband later’.

According to the woman, patrol officers questioned her about her alleged relationship with “a particular Juan”, but she explained that he had left her some time ago.

The answer to what the patrols want to hear is unknown.

Paulina says that one of the men grabbed her by the neck and said: “Now you’re going to tell us who’s coming with you tonight.”

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Sexual violence is a weapon of war

Robin’s Achchi women are waiting for the public hearing to begin. Getty Images

According to Lucia Jiloze, a lawyer for 29 of the victims in the Achi women’s case in Robinhal, the sexual assault cases took place between 1981 and 1985 within the framework of the civil war in Guatemala.

“These women were illegally detained and taken to the military unit, where they were subjected to public and continuous rape,” Xiloj said.

The PACs were an integral part of the then military government’s efforts to eliminate left – wing guerrillas, and sexual violence was used as a weapon of war to establish who’s on which side of the population.

This led Guatemala State to hold the victims’ lawyers accountable for “failing to fulfill their guarantee that women will live a life free of sexual violence.”

However, it is not yet clear whether the government will be included as a responsible party in this case.

Rape and deportation

Paulina says he was forced to stay in the military for the next 24 hours, from that lucky night in 1983. Moreover, he adds that on each of those nights, he was subjected to mind-boggling acts of sexual violence.

“We have been waiting for justice for 40 years,” say Robin’s Achchi women. REUTERS

“For 25 days separately, they raped me every night. When I went out, I came out unwell and was always harassed. […] They said they would kill me once they saw me in the community.

Considering the situation, Palina moved to the capital to escape from the community. Although he returns after a while, he says recovery is a slow and difficult process.

“It was very difficult for me. It was very difficult because they not only raped me. They killed many children. They stole our animals. They burned down our house. When I stayed, I was alone with a change of clothes.”

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That’s why the trial, which began on January 5, is so important for Rabinal’s Achchi women.

In a statement from September 2021, the women said: “We have been waiting for 40 years for justice for the sexual violence and terror we experienced during the civil war in Baja Verabas, Robinhal.”

A new delay

As the trial was again delayed, Robin’s Achchi women held a Mayan ceremony in front of the Supreme Court. Getty Images

After 40 years of waiting, the trial, scheduled to begin on January 4, was delayed by another 24 hours.

Faced with the new delay, some Aashi women held a Mayan ceremony in front of the Supreme Court.

However, on Wednesday, January 5, the trial was adjourned and the wait was concluded with the defense and defendants following the procedure by teleconference.

No longer, knowing their story, do justice, the victims hope. At least Paulina believes that.

“I seek justice. We are not going to get back everything that was stolen. But what they did hurt me.”

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