Xuncax v. Gramajo & Ortiz v. Gramajo – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket Spring 1994

Two civil damages suits against Hector Gramajo, the ex-Defense Minister of Guatemala, may result in default judg­ments against him.

In the first, Xuncax v. Gramajo, Gramajo is charged with designing, ordering, implementing and directing a program of massacres, murders, disappearances­, widespread torture and arbi­trary arrest, known throughout Latin America as “the Guatemala Solution.” when he was chief military commander of seven western provinces of Guatemala in 1982. Gramajo was served legal papers on this suit during his June 1991 gradua­tion from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Eight of the plaintiffs in this suit rep­resent tens of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans who have been brutally persecuted over the last two decades to discourage opposition movements and to force them to support the military. For example, in.July1982 plaintiff Juan Doe watched as government soldiers tortured and murdered his father and several other men from their village in one of the areas under Gramajo’s command.

CCR brought this suit under the Filartiga principle in the District Court of Massachusetts while Gramajo was living in Cambridge.

Gramajo answered the complaint pro se (acting as his own lawyer) but failed to comply with court rules. In August 1991, the district court judge ordered Gramajo to comply; his order was published in La Prensa,the largest circulation Guatemalan daily newspaper.

After his graduation from Harvard, Gramajo returned to Guatemala and con­tinued his refusal to cooperate with the court, and the judge found him in default, meaning that since Gramajo did not chal­lenge the plaintiffs’ assertions, the court will accept them as true.

CCR then submitted extensive docu­mentation in support of plaintiffs’ claim for a multi-million dollar award of dam­ages. A hearing on the legal issues was held in November 1992, and supplemen­tal briefs were submitted in March 1993. A final judgment from the court on the default is pending.

Most recently, Gramajo appeared as a speaker at the Woodrow Wilson Center in October l993 and was confronted by a CCR cooperating attorney in the audi­ence who demanded that Gramajo appear for a deposition the next day. Gramajo said he would comply, but failed to appear. Instead, the Guatemalan Consulate sent a letter on his behalf, stating that he was unavailable.

Beth Stephens, Michael Ratner; Jennifer green, Jose Luis Morin and David Cole, with Harvey Kaplan of Kaplan, O’Sullivan & Friedman; James F. Smith of  University of California Law School Davis, Todd Howland of El Rescute Legal Services; and Harold Koh of the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic of Yale University

The second suit, involves Sister Dianna Ortiz, a U.S nun who was living and teaching literacy and religion to school children in San Miguel Acatan, Guatemala. She charges Gramajo with the responsibility for her abduction, rape, and torture by military and security personnel.

Ortiz still suffers the effects of her ordeal, during which she was stripped, raped, burned with a lit cigarette, and held in a pit filled with dead bodies and live rats.

CCR filed suit on her behalf in June 1991 in the District Court of Massachusetts, seeking compensation for torture and other personal injury and also for defamation stemming from Gramajo’s false public statements that Ortiz’s abduction and torture were the result of a love affair.

Gramajo spat on the hand of the process server. He responded pro se but failed to cooperate with court requests for information. As in Xuncax v.Gramajo, the district court judge  ordered Gramajo to comply, the order was published in La Prensa. and the judge found him in default. In June 1992, CCR submitted extensive documentation to support plaintiff’s demand for a substantial money judgment.

The submissions include an affidavit from 27 international law scholars who state that rape and other sexual abuse constitute torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and are therefore prohibited by international human rights agreements.

A decision on the default judgment is pending.

Beth Stephens, Jose Luis Morin, Jennifer M. Green; with Paul Soreff; Susan Shawn Roberts of the Center for Human Rights Legal Action Robert Bertsche of Hill & Barlow