Benetech’s Daniel Guzmán Publishes Account of Landmark Guatemalan Human Rights Case
The article describes Guzmán’s presentation of key evidence in the trial of two former Guatemalan National Police agents accused of forcibly disappearing 26-year-old student and union leader Edgar Fernando García. A husband and father, García disappeared in 1984 after being detained by police on his way to work one morning. His family never stopped looking for him.
The Guatemalan Attorney General’s office summoned Guzmán to present evidence based on his analysis of random samples drawn from the millions of documents in the Guatemalan National Police Archive. Discovered by chance in 2005 in an explosives storehouse in Guatemala City, the archive contains what archivists estimate to be 8 kilometers or approximately 80 million sheets, of paper. Many of the police documents contained in the archive were created during the country’s internal armed conflict from 1960 to 1996, during which an estimated tens of thousands of Guatemalans disappeared.
Benetech’s Human Rights Program was asked to help analyze the documents in this vast archive. We have been working in partnership with the archive staff who have been using Benetech’s Martus software to secure the data. Guzmán and his colleagues at Benetech’s Human Rights Data Analysis Group spent four years intensely analyzing the documents. In October 2010, Guzmán stood before three judges to defend his statistical findings, which supported the prosecutor’s case against the police officers. Statistical data are very seldom used as evidence in court cases in Guatemala, and defense attorneys were attempting to discredit his testimony.
One week after Guzmán presented his statistical evidence, the judges found the two former police officers guilty of forced disappearance and sentenced each to 40 years in prison. Analysis of the archive documents by Guzmán and his colleagues also provided critical information used to support the arrest in June 2011 of Hector Bol de la Cruz, the former chief of the Guatemalan National Police who is accused of complicity in García’s disappearance.
The arrest of a commanding officer accused of involvement in the many disappearances that took place during Guatemala’s 36 years of armed internal conflict is a big step towards justice in that country. The statistical evidence that Guzmán presented in the García case set a precedent for this type of analysis in court and we are proud of him. Guzmán’s groundbreaking testimony will help judges trust the validity of the archive documents and accept statistical evidence in future human rights cases. I urge you to read Guzmán’s compelling account of how he helped build the case against the former police officers, the trial, the verdict, and its long term implications for justice in Guatemala.