Cardinal Laments State of Justice in Guatemala

Points to the 1998 Murder of Bishop Gerardi

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GUATEMALA CITY, APRIL 28, 2004 ( Guatemala’s cardinal says the investigation surrounding the 1998 murder of Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi shows the «disaster» of the country’s justice system.

Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada, archbishop of the capital, spoke Monday on the sixth anniversary of the bishop’s death, during a Mass celebrated in the metropolitan cathedral.

«The case Gerardi shows the disaster in which the application of justice has fallen in this country,» the cardinal said, according to the newspaper Prensa Libre. Guatemala needs incorruptible and tireless judges, as «it is the least we can request,» he said.

Cardinal Quezada defended the work of the archdiocese’s Human Rights Office (ODHAG), which was headed by Bishop Gerardi, and added: «If they attack ODHAG, it would be as if they attacked me personally.»

The bishop, known for his defense of human rights, was beatened to death in his residence on April 16, 1998.

Two days before his death, the ODHAG had presented a report on human rights violations perpetrated during the 1960-1996 civil war, which left 200,000 dead or missing. The report blamed 80% of the violations on the army.

In August 2001, a lower court sentenced three military men to 30 years in prison for the bishop’s death. A priest was given 20 years for complicity.

One of those sentenced, Sergeant Obdulio Villanueva was killed in prison in February 2003. The others are retired Colonel Disrael Lima; his son, Captain Byron Lima; and the priest, Mario Orantes. Following an appeal of the sentences, a final court decision is forthcoming.

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