Answers Still Sought in Murder of Guatemala Bishop

Episcopate Presses Demands in 1998 Case

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GUATEMALA CITY, APRIL 28, 2005 ( On the seventh anniversary of the murder of Auxiliary Bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera, the country’s episcopate renewed its call for the uncovering of the culprits behind the crime.

Bishop Gerardi, an outspoken advocate of human rights, was beaten to death at his residence April 26, 1998.

Two days before his death, the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala, headed by the bishop, presented a report on human-rights violations committed during the country’s 36-year civil war, in which some 200,000 people either died or disappeared.

The «Gerardi report» listed more than 55,000 violations of human rights — 80% attributed to the army — all perpetrated during the civil war. The war ended in 1996.

A message issued by the bishops’ conference and dated April 15 said: «With the approach of the seventh anniversary of the murder of Monsignor Juan Gerardi Conedera, once again we feel the duty to recall his life, his commitment in favor of human rights and the memory of the victims of the internal armed confrontation, to learn the truth which would make forgiveness and reconciliation possible.»

«His memory urges us to continue to appeal for justice for a just man,» says the document signed by Bishops Pablo Vizcaíno Prado and Victor Hugo Palma Paúl, vice president and secretary, respectively, of the Guatemalan episcopate.

Although the episcopal statement acknowledges the work of the country’s judiciary in the murder probe, it adds that «the work must continue of those in charge of bringing about justice until they identify» all the culprits behind the crime.

In 2001 retired Colonel Byron Disrael Lima and his son, Captain Byron Lima Oliva, were sentenced to 30 years in prison as authors of the crime. Sergeant Obdulio Villanueva received the same sentence; he was later killed in prison in February 2003. Father Mario Orantes, a former secretary of the murdered prelate, was sentenced to 20 years for complicity.

Last March, a Guatemalan court reduced the sentences of the retired colonel and of the captain to 20 years, but confirmed the priest’s 20-year sentence.

The judges decreed that the military men were «accomplices,» not «material authors» of the crime, as they were judged in 2001.

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