Former Guatemalan leaders sentenced to life in prison for murder of Belgian missionaries

On Thursday evening, the jury of the Assize Court in Leuven sentenced five Guatemalan defendants to life imprisonment on 19 counts of crimes against humanity. Neither the jury nor the appeal judges found any mitigating circumstances.

During Guatemala's 36-year civil war, more than 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed or disappeared at the hands of the country's leaders. Among them were four Belgian missionaries: Walter Voordeckers, Ward Capiau and Serge Berten died in the 1980s, while Paul Schildermans survived being kidnapped and tortured.

Crimes against humanity

The five defendants, tried in absentia, are former military and political leaders, aged between 79 and 98. Three are imprisoned in Guatamala and the other two are fugitives. The jury sentenced them to life imprisonment for 19 counts of crimes against humanity. They were also ordered to pay 91,000 euros in court costs and deprived of their civil rights for life.

"The defendants were both the designers and the executors of a criminal plan to maintain their political and military power over Guatemala," said the court's chair, Peter Hartoch. "They did this in a cruel way; everything had to give way to their plan. (...) Walter Voordeckers, Ward Capiau, Paul Schildermans and Serge Berten fell victim to this, as did so many others."


#FlandersNewsService | Chair of the court Peter Hartoch pictured during the trial © BELGA PHOTO ERIC LALMAND

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