Guatemalan Bishops Appeal for Justice in Gerardi Murder Case

Episcopal Conference Issues Statement

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GUATEMALA CITY, NOV. 5, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Guatemalan episcopal conference has issued a statement calling for justice in the 1998 murder of Auxiliary Bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera.

At the end of their recent plenary meeting, the bishops reminded the Catholic faithful and all people of good will of the murdered prelate’s pastoral work for human rights.

«His death, which we radically condemn, was a great loss for the whole of Guatemala. Since then, we have repeatedly called for clarification of the facts,» the bishops say in a statement. «We acknowledge that this prosecution has been long, but we sustain the hope that the truth will be fully known.»

«To seek justice in Guatemala today implies confronting the impunity which conditions the independence and freedom of those who are responsible for administering justice,» the statement continues.

«We see that throughout the judicial process to clarify the murder of Bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera, it has become evident that power groups still exists that are keen on concealing the truth,» the bishops state.

«This is why we are concerned and surprised by the recent ruling dictated by the 4th Court of Appeals,» which annulled the first sentence against the convicted murderers and accomplices in the murder.

Early in October an appeals court here overruled the sentences imposed on three military men and a priest for the murder of Bishop Gerardi.

A new trial has now been ordered for retired Colonel Disrael Lima Estrada, Captain Byron Lima Oliva and Sergeant Obdulio Villanueva, and for a priest, Father Mario Orantes.

In June 2001, judges sentenced the three military men to 30 years in prison for the murder. Father Orantes received a 20-year term for complicity.

The first verdict described the murder as politically motivated, given Bishop Gerardi’s work in the diocesan project that probed atrocities in the 36-year civil war.

The bishop was bludgeoned to death in April 1998, two days after publishing a report blaming the military for hundreds of massacres and other abuses during the 1960-1996 conflict.

In their statement, the Guatemalan bishops say, «We appeal to all those authorities involved in this case to maintain courageously the independence and attachment to the truth that their work requires. We support those who carry out professional work in favor of truth and justice, at times even risking their own lives.

«In appealing to all Guatemalans to pay attention to this case, we invoke the Lord through the intercession of the most holy Virgin Mary of the rosary, to grant ways of peace, justice and reconciliation to Guatemala.»

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