In the early 1980s, many indigenous Q’eqchi’ women from Sepur Zarco in Guatemala suffered a horrific ordeal. They were forced into sexual slavery by Guatemalan military commanders, during one of the most violent and repressive periods of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict.
Supported by Trócaire through our local partners, the women bravely fought for justice for decades. In 2016, a landmark legal ruling proved historic when two military commanders were found guilty of committing crimes against humanity, including sexual violence and sexual slavery committed against 11 Maya Q’eqchi’ women.
This case was an example of strategic litigation – an approach which aims to obtain justice, realise human rights and achieve systemic change. These cases involve setting precedents in law, changing policy and influencing public opinion to prevent further violations from happening again in the future.
“We were consulted on everything, what we wanted to do and what we didn’t want to do. We did nothing on our own, nor did they on their own, everything was in consensus”
This quote from one of the indigenous Q’eqchi’ women illustrates a key finding from Trócaire’s new research on Strategic Litigation. Namely, that the approach should be empowering and democratic for survivors.
This Q’eqchi’ woman was one of the people who participated in research on Strategic Litigation in Guatemala and Honduras that Trócaire commissioned in 2019 and 2020. She spoke about how the lawyers and civil society organisations leading the case took an approach that ensured that the survivors’ voices, needs and priorities guided all major decisions in relation to how the case was fought and won.
The research focuses on four strategic litigation cases that Trócaire has been supporting over several years. It explores the experiences of the indigenous and peasant women and men at the heart of these cases.