A former police officer is on trial in Guatemala for the deaths of 37 people more than three decades ago when the Spanish Embassy burned down during Guatemala's bloody civil conflict.

Pedro Garcia Arredondo is a former special investigations chief for the Sixth Commando of the National Police.

He is accused of homicide and crimes against humanity for allegedly ordering agents to keep anyone from leaving the diplomatic mission as it burned in 1980.

The first witness called Wednesday was 1992 Nobel peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu, whose father was one of those killed in the blaze.