Victor Hugo Soto Diéguez

09.05.2016 ( Last modified: 06.01.2020 )
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facts

In 1986, Victor Hugo Soto Diéguez joined the Technical Investigations Department (DIT) of the former Guatemalan police. He then joined the Brigade on Special Instigations on Narcotics Trafficking, known under its Spanish acronym BIEN.

In 1997, following the Peace Agreements signed in 1996 between the Government and the guerrilla, the Guatemalan police was reorganized and renamed the National Civil Police (PNC).

In 2002, Soto Diéguez became Chief of the Operations of the Criminal Investigations Service, and was then promoted to the position of Chief of the Criminal Investigations Division (known under the acronym DINC).

Soto Diéguez is allegedly involved in three distinct cases:

2005, the Gavilán plan:

On 22 October 2005, 19 prisoners managed to escape from the Detention Center “El Infiernito” (a high security prison located in the periphery of the city of Guatemala). Soto Diéguez, along with other police officials (such as Erwin Sperisen), is accused of implementing the “Gavilán Plan”, the aim of which was to find the escaped prisoners and to execute them. A reward was promised to anyone who could provide any information on the whereabouts of the fugitives. Nine escapees were found and captured, three of them were executed.

2006, Pavón Prison:

The prison of Pavón was a high security prison located in the periphery of the city of Guatemala. At the time of the events in 2006, the facility was under the control of the detainees, as it had been for several years before. Indeed, the level of corruption was such that no warden patrolled in the prison.

On 25 September 2006, an operation was carried out by Soto Diéguez, Javier Figueroa, Erwin Sperisen as well as other members of the Security Forces in order to regain control of the prison. The operation was called “Zero Tolerance”, or “Pavo Real”.

During the evening of 25 September, more than 3000 agents of the PNC and the army were deployed in the prison. During the operation, seven detainees were executed.
2007: The “El Boquerón” case

On 17 February 2006, three Salvadorian members of Parliament and their driver were found dead in their car in the vicinity of the city of Guatemala. Four policemen of the DINC were accused of having participated to the murders, and put in the high security prison of « El Boquerón ». These four policemen were then killed during their internment.
The 12 December 2006, an agreement establishing the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) was signed between the United Nations and the Guatemalan Government. The CICIG is an independent institution the mandate of which is to assist the Office of the Prosecutor, the national police as well as other organizations to investigate the crimes committed in Guatemala. This institution may also initiate investigations proprio motu (i.e. on its own initiative).

The investigations on the events occurring in the prisons of Infiernito and Pavón led to the indictment of several actors: Erwin Sperisen, Javier Figueroa, Carlos Vielmann as well as Soto Diéguez.

On 21 June 2010, proceedings were initiated for the executions which occurred in the Pavón prison. The case was then transferred to the Court for High Risk Crimes (“Tribunal Primero B de Mayor Riesgo”). On 10 October 2010, the Court (constituted of three judges) joined the case to that of the three deaths of the Infiernito Prison.

 

legal procedure

On 21 June 2010, proceedings were initiated for the executions which occurred in the Pavón prison. The case was then transferred to the Court for High Risk Crimes (“Tribunal Primero B de Mayor Riesgo”). On 10 October 2010, the Court (constituted of three judges) joined the case to that of the three deaths of the Infiernito Prison.

The trial started on 23 May 2013. Throughout the trial, the Prosecutor and the CICIG presented many pieces of evidence, including testimonies from experts and witnesses, audio-visuals documents, material evidence and photographs.

On 8 August 2013, the Court for High Risk Crimes sentenced Soto Diéguez to 33 years and 3 months of imprisonment for its participation to the murders which occurred in the prisons of Pavón and in Il Infiernito. Soto Diéguez appealed the decision.

On 26 February 2014, the Court of Appeal overturned the first instance judgment because of some procedural irregularities and ordered the opening of a new trial. The Prosecutor and the CICIG appealed the judgment before the Supreme Court. On 29 May 2014, the Supreme Court granted the appeal.

On 13 October 2014, after reviewing the merits of the appeal decision, the Supreme Court permanently overturned the Court of Appeal’s judgment, and confirmed the sentence originally decided by the Court for High Risk Crimes.

Soto Diéguez is therefore sentenced to 33 years and 3 months of prison for having perpetrated several extrajudicial executions.

 

context

THE CIVIL WAR (1960-1996)

Between 1960 and 1996, Guatemala was embroiled in a civil war that resulted in 250 000 victims (deaths and disappearances). The war ended following a peace signing on 29 December 1996.

The civil war, which would last for 36 years, began in 1960 when young defiant officials and countrymen revolted against the dictatorial regime. Until 1982, there were a series of military or pro military governments.

In 1978, General Fernándo Romeo Lucas García became the president of Guatemala. It was during his presidency that the first large-scale massacre against the Mayan population took place.

In 1982, General Efraín Ríos Montt took control following a coup d’état. He set up Civil Defense Patrols (PAC) made up of 900 000 militia who the army had recruited by force to fight against the guerrilla. He intensified the scorched earth policy, tortures and enforced disappearances. More than 45 000 people fled to Mexico where they stayed in refugee camps in Chiapas and Tabasco. In response, 6000 soldiers from the four main guerrilla groups (EGP, ORPA, FAR and PGT) unified to form the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG). From this point onwards, the conflict truly became a civil war.

Ríos Montt’s brief presidency (from 1982 to 1983) is considered to be the most violent period of the conflict. During this period, 440 Mayan villages were completely destroyed and 200 000 Mayan people were killed in attacks of extreme cruelty (such as; amputation, impalement and torture). Although the (left-wing) guerrilla forces and the (right-wing) death squads had committed summary executions, forced disappearances and had tortured civilians, the majority of human rights violations (93%) were committed by the Guatemalan army and by the PACs that it controlled.

In 1986, free elections were at last organised and were won by Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo of the Christian Democratic Party. It was not until 1996, however, that a peace agreement was signed between the government and the guerrilla, putting an end to a conflict that had lasted for 36 years.

THE COMMISSION FOR HISTORICAL CLARIFICATION (CEH)

In June 1994, the Oslo Accords ordered the creation of a truth commission called the Guatemalan “Commission for Historical Clarification”; its aim was to investigate human rights violations in relation to the armed conflict and to prepare a report covering these violations and their causes. The Commission also aimed to establish specific recommendations to “encourage national peace and harmony in Guatemala”. After having listened to thousands of accounts and having unearthed several clandestine burial sites, the Commission published a final report in February 1999, titled “Silent memories”.

In its report, the CEH accounted for 200 000 deaths, 50 000 disappearances, one million internally displaced refugees and more than 600 devastated communities. The majority of crimes (91%) were committed during the regimes of General Romes Lucas García (1978-1982) and General Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983).

The facts established by this report have been used on a number of occasions during the trials of perpetrators of human rights violations, particularly that of Felipe Cusanero Coj. A former paramilitary officer, he was the first person to be tried for the forced disappearances of civilians during the civil war.

The CEH was supported by another report, “Never again”, published on 24 April 1998 as part of the inter-diocese Recovery of Historical Memory project (REMHI).

THE INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION AGAINST IMPUNITY IN GUATEMALA (CICIG).

On 12 December 2006, an agreement signed between the United Nations and the Guatemalan government established the CICIG. It is an independent body that aims to assist the Guatemalan office of the prosecutor, the national police and other institutions involved in the investigation of sensitive cases, as well as working to dismantle illegal security groups. The CICIG has the right to initiate investigations proprio motu.

The CICIG’s investigations have led to the issuance of 18 arrest warrants, notably forJavier Figueroa and Erwin Sperisen.

 

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