A court in Guatemala has sentenced two former members of the military to 360 years in jail for human rights abuses.
Francisco Reyes Giron, was the former commander of the Sepur Zarco military base and Heriberto Valdez Asij, a military commissioner.
They were charged with sexual enslavement, rape and murder of a group of indigenous women.
It is the first successful prosecution for sexual violence during Guatemala’s armed conflict.
There were jubilant scenes in court with people cheering and applauding the victims when the judge finished reading out the sentence.
The retired officer, Francisco Reyes Giron, was found guilty of holding 15 women in sexual and domestic slavery and for killing one woman and her two daughters.
Heriberto Valdez Asij, a civilian who carried out military commissions, was convicted for the same enslavement, as well as the forced disappearance of seven men.
The court had heard harrowing details about what went on at the former Sepur Zarco military base in the eastern highlands during the 1980s.
According to the prosecution, in 1982 armed forces repeatedly attacked the village of Sepur Zarco and killed or took away Mayan Quiche leaders who had been applying for land titles and had angered local landowners.
The men were accused of being associated with left-wing guerrillas.
Agustin Chen, one of the men who survived said the soldiers took him to a cell and beat him every day.
“They killed seven people, throwing two grenades into the pit where they had put them.”
The court heard how military commanders considered Quiche women to be “available” without their men and had then taken them into sexual and domestic slavery.
They were required to report every third day to the base for “shifts” during which they were raped, sexually abused, and forced to cook and clean for the soldiers.
In a report to the court, anthropologist, Irma Alicia Velasquez Nimatuj said “The military outposts were installed in the region to give security to the landowner’s farms and to take possession of the lands. “
For women in the communities she said, “Racism and sexual violence had come hand in hand in the subduing and controlling of indigenous populations.”
For some of the victims their ordeal lasted as long as six years until the base was closed in 1988.
The victims have been demanding accountability for the crimes at Sepur Zarco for decades.
“We were raped, all of this happened, if it wasn’t like this, where are our husbands? We don’t know where they are,” said Demesia Yac, 70 years old, who acted as a representative for the women.