Canada urged to try man in Guatemala massacre

AP News
Posted: Nov 28, 2011 10:41 PM
Canada urged to try man in Guatemala massacre

A Guatemalan immigrant whose entire family was murdered in a notorious massacre said Monday he wants Canada to prosecute an alleged war criminal and not let the man be extradited to the U.S.

Ramiro Cristales said Monday he witnessed Guatemalan soldiers kill nearly everyone in the village of Dos Erres during the country's bloody civil war when he was 5 years old.

Jose Sosa, 53, who holds both Canadian and Guatemalan citizenship, was arrested in January in Canada on U.S. charges of lying on his citizenship application about his ties to the Guatemalan military.

In Guatemala, Sosa was a member of a special military unit called the "kaibiles" and was the commanding officer of a unit assigned to find and arrest guerrillas who had stolen military weapons, according to U.S. court documents.

The government claims in the indictment that on Dec. 7, 1982, he and several dozen soldiers stormed the village of Dos Erres, near Las Cruces, and systematically killed the men, women and children. The unit is accused of slaughtering villagers with sledgehammers and throwing people into a well. Sosa denies the allegations.

In the United States, Sosa is only charged with immigration violations in the U.S. _ not carrying out the 1982 massacre. Activists in Canada are pressing their government to try him for crimes against humanity, noting the case has languished in Guatemalan courts.

"They took my father and my older brother to the school and my mother and younger brothers to the church," Cristales recalled Monday through tears. "They were crying. Most of the people was praying.

"The next morning they started massacring the men and young kids from the school. When they finished with the men they started with the women from the church."

Cristales is joining Lawyers Without Borders and the Canadian Centre for International Justice in asking the Canadian government to take a stand in the case, but so far have not received a response from the federal justice minister.

"I want him to stay here and he can pay for whatever he did in Guatemala," Cristales said.

Matt Eisenbrandt, the legal co-ordinator for the Canadian Centre for International Justice, said the Canadian government has an obligation to do something.

"There are very strong laws in Canada that allow for the prosecution of crimes against humanity and war crimes even when they're committed overseas," he said. "This is a case that has a very close connection to Canada. There is a Canadian citizen who is a survivor and Mr. Sosa is himself a Canadian citizen."

A Calgary judge ruled in September that there was sufficient evidence to approve the extradition request. Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has the final say on whether the extradition order goes ahead. Extradition case typically take years in Canada.

The civil war in Guatemala claimed at least 200,000 lives before it ended in 1996. The U.S.-backed army was responsible for most of the deaths, according to the findings of a truth commission set up to investigate the bloodshed.

The Guatemalan government opened an investigation into the killings in Dos Erres in 1994 and unearthed 162 skeletons. Authorities issued arrest warrants for 17 former kaibiles but for years the cases languished, prompting victims to seek justice abroad.