Xuncax v. Gramajo & Ortiz v. Gramajo – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket Fall 1995

In the most recent victory against international human rights abusers, on April 12, 1995, a federal district court judge in Massachusetts ordered the former Defense Minister of Guatemala, Hector Gramajo, to pay 47.5 million in damages to eight Guatemalans and a U.S. nun who fell victim to his campaign of torture and murder.

The federal court ruled that Gramajo “was aware of and supported widespread acts of brutality committed under his command resulting in thousands of civilian deaths.” Furthermore, the court said Gramajo “devised” and “directed” and :Indiscriminate campaign of terror against civilians.”

Both cases against Gramajo arose when he was  chief military commander of seven western provinces of Guatemala in 1982. The Guatemalans, all Kanjobal Indians who were brutalized themselves and lost loved ones, lived in highland villages demolished by Gramajo’s soldiers. Sister Dianna Ortiz, a U.S. nun who was living and teaching literacy and religion to school children in San Miguel Acatan, Guatemala, was abducted and raped and otherwise tortured by military and security personnel under Gramajo’s command.

Gramajo was served legal papers on this suit, brought by CCR using the Filartiga precedent, during his June 1991 graduation from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. he spat on the hand of the process server. Gramajo answered the complaint pro se (acting as his own lawyer) refused to cooperate with the court. The judge found him in default, meaning that since Gramajo did not contest the plaintiffs assertions, the court accepted them as true.  A hearing on the legal issues was held in 1992, and supplemental briefs were submitted in March 1993.

A week after the April 1995 judgment, CCR notified Attorney General Janet Reno of the court’s decision, and urged her to deny Gramajo any further entry to the U.S. CCR sited U.S. laws making Gramajo excludable under the Immigration and Nationality Act for engaging in genocide, terrorism, and crimes of moral turpitude.

CCR followed this in may 1995 with a similar request to the Immigrations and Naturalization Service (INS). We await a response.

Gramajo, in Guatemala, scoffed at the verdict and indicated he had no intention of paying his victims anything. Furthermore, following revelations about the murder of the husband of a U.S. citizen, he has been treated by the U.S. media as a respectable spokesperson for the Guatemalan military.

Beth Stephens, Michael Ratner, Jennifer M. Green, Jose Luis Morin, and David Cole; with Harvey Kaplan, James E. Smith, Todd Howland, Harold Koh, Peter Soreff, Susan Shawn Roberts