Sunday, February 20, 2011

Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes and the Las Dos Erres Massacre

On February 23, Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes will have a bail hearing in a Calgary court. Captured in Lethbridge, Alberta in January, 2011 Sosa Orantes is facing possible extradition to the USA where an indictment there alleges that he participated in carrying out a massacre in the community of Las Dos Erres during Guatemala's 36 year Internal Armed Conflict. He faces charges in the USA of lying on citizenship forms about his role with the Guatemalan military. Canada has a responsibility in this case to ensure that Sosa Orantes is not released on bail, nor extradited to the USA where he will be tried for lesser crimes.
Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes is one of 17 former Kaibiles, a Special Forces unit of the Guatemalan army, charged in relation to the Las Dos Erres massacre. On December 6, 1982, at least 252 unarmed civilians were systematically tortured and killed in the community of Las Dos Erres, in northern Guatemala. Only two children survived. In the years since the massacre, family members of the victims have sought justice, despite many obstacles and threats. The facts of the case are corroborated by the two surviving eyewitnesses, as well as by declassified documents from the US Embassy and evidence unearthed in two exhumations of the remains of the victims. Sosa Orantes is named as one of those who planned the massacre in the testimony of other Kaibiles tried in the case.
The Association for the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Guatemala (FAMDEGUA) is plaintiff in the case against the Kaibiles and has been providing legal support for the case since investigations began in 1994. In 2000, the legal case against the 17 former Kaibiles was launched. Since then, 45 injunctions have been put forward by the defendants. There have also been numerous threats made against the staff of FAMDEGUA. In 2009, the OAS Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled that the State of Guatemala was guilty of impeding justice in this case, and in 2010 the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice issued arrest warrants for the 17 men charged. Three of them were arrested and are being tried in Guatemala. Three others were arrested for immigration fraud in the United States, for lying on their immigration applications and for committing crimes for which they have not been tried. In 2010, one was convicted, and sentenced to 10 years in prison (the maximum possible sentence). The other two await trial in the United States, though the Guatemalan Attorney General has requested their extradition.
Sosa Orantes is also wanted for immigration fraud in the United States, but fled to Mexico before being captured. In October 2010, the RCMP alerted police in Lethbridge that Sosa Orantes might try to contact family living there. In January 2011, Sosa Orantes left Mexico for Canada and was arrested in Lethbridge on January 18. The United States has requested his detention in anticipation of possible extradition on charges of immigration fraud. He holds Canadian, American, and Guatemalan citizenship.
Sosa Orantes could be investigated here in Canada for crimes against humanity. He also faces charges in Guatemala for crimes against humanity, and his participation in the Las Dos Erres massacre could implicate him in the Guatemala genocide case in Spain. These countries may also seek extradition orders. These cases are at a critical juncture, and it is possible that the family members of those who were tortured and killed in the Las Dos Erres massacre may finally see justice, if Sosa Orantes and others are tried for the participation in the planning and execution of the massacre.
There are strong allegations that Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes was involved in the massacre in Las Dos Erres. He must not be released on bail, nor extradited to the United States where he will be tried for lesser crimes. Families of the victims as well as Guatemalan and international organizations are calling on the Canadian government to ensure that he is tried for the crimes that he has allegedly committed.
For more information see the Canadian Centre for International Justice website: http://www.ccij.ca/programs/cases/index.php?WEBYEP_DI=16