by Frank Rackow 29 november 2011, 13h41
Canadian justice groups and a survivor of a central American massacre oppose the extradition of accused war criminal Jorge Sosa Orantes from Canada to the United States to face immigration fraud charges. Instead, they want him tried for war crimes in connection with the massacre of 200 villagers in Guatemala in 1982.
Ramiro Cristales was just five years old when the elite army unit came to his village, Dos Erres in northern Guatemala.
The army claimed to be searching for guns. They didn't find any, but they did systematically rape and murder more than 200 villagers in one of the worst atrocities of Guatemala's civil war. Ramiro Cristales lost his entire family.
Cristales was taken to an army camp after the massacre and even adopted by one of the officers. He later joined the Guatemalan army, but when it became known he was a survivor of the Dos Erres massacre he says his life was threatened. He fled to Canada and qualifed as a resident under a witness protection program.
Now, Ramiro Cristales is calling on the Canadian government to charge another Guatemalan immigrant with war crimes. Jorge Vinicio Orantes Sosa was a member of the army unit that committed the Dos Erres massacre. He was arrested in southern Alberta last year and may be extradited to the United States to face charges of immigration fraud. Sosa is a citizen of both Canada and the U.S., as well as his native Guatemala. He is accused of lying on his application for U.S. citizenship.
Justice groups call for halt to extradition
Matt Eisenbrandt, the legal director of the Canadian Centre for International Justice, says Sosa should be tried in Canada.
Eisenbrandt and the Canadian Centre for International Justice, along with Lawyers without Borders Canada, have jointly written to the Canadian justice minister Rob Nicholson. They are asking him to halt the extradition and lay charges under Canada's war crimes legislation.
Matt Eisenbrandt says unlike Canada, the U.S. lacks the legal framework to handle charges for war crimes committed in another country.
Dos Erres massacre survivor Ramiro Cristalles would also like to see Sosa stand trial on war crimes charges rather than immigration fraud.
Last year, four men were tried for the Dos Erres massacre in Guatemala. During the trial, evidence was presented that Jorge Sosa Orantes was present as a commander of the army unit and that he himself killed several of the victims. The four men were convicted and sentenced to more than 6,000 years of imprisonment.
Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act has been used to prosecute a man in Quebec for war crimes in Rwanda during the genocide.
Sosa is appealing the ruling by an Alberta judge that clears the way for his extradition to the United States.
Cristalles and a Guatemalan lawyer for the families of the victimes of Dos Erres are currently on a cross Canada tour.
They began the tour in Calgary, where Sosa is being held. They are hoping to convince the Canadian justice minister to lay the war crimes charges before Sosa can be extradited by the United States.