Guatemalan ex-police chief appeals to European Court of Human Rights

Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Erwin Sperisen, the former head of Guatemala’s police force, has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to overturn a 15-year prison sentence imposed by Swiss courts. 

This content was published on June 9, 2020 - 11:23

According to Swiss public broadcaster RTSExternal link, Sperisen’s defence team filed an application on May 27 at the Strasbourg-based court. The dual Guatemalan-Swiss citizen has exhausted all his legal appeals in Switzerland against a 15-year prison sentence for his complicity in the killing of seven prisoners in Guatemala in 2006. 

His lawyers accuse the Swiss justice system of serious violations of their client’s human rights and a violation of the fundamental principles of the rule of law.  

Their first grievance is the failure to respect the presumption of innocence: Sperisen was convicted by a Geneva court, and then by the Federal Court, as an accomplice of a principal perpetrator who was acquitted in Austria. In the view of the lawyers, this scenario is not only contradictory but also flouts the presumption of innocence. 

The second grievance is the alleged bias of the judges, with Sperisen’s lawyers raising the case of a refusal to release him from prison after his first appeal was partially upheld.  

Finally, they accuse the Swiss justice system of having refused to hear key witnesses on their behalf and of having kept a complainant in the proceedings without his knowledge and against his will. 

The ECHR is Sperisen’s last hope to clear his name, almost eight years after his arrest in Geneva for the 2006 murder of seven detainees in Guatemala as police chief. If the magistrates in Strasbourg were to rule in his favour, the entire Swiss judgment would be called into question. 

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