Guatemala: Efrain Rios Montt trial to be restarted

Guatemala’s top court has annulled the conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity of former military leader Efrain Rios Montt.
Jose Efrain Rios Montt, 86, listens to his sentence on charges of genocide. Picture: GettyJose Efrain Rios Montt, 86, listens to his sentence on charges of genocide. Picture: Getty
Jose Efrain Rios Montt, 86, listens to his sentence on charges of genocide. Picture: Getty

The constitutional court ruled the trial should restart from the point where it stood on 19 April – in the middle of proceedings.

On 10 May, Rios Montt was convicted of ordering the deaths of 1,771 people of the Ixil Maya ethnic group in 1982-83.

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The 86-year-old, who denied the charges, was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

The ruling was hailed for delivering the first guilty verdict for genocide against a former Latin American leader.

Constitutional court secretary Martin Guzman yesterday said the trial needs to go back to where it stood on 19 April to solve several appeal issues.

The ruling came 10 days after a three-judge panel convicted Rios Montt for his role in massacres of Mayans during Guatemala’s bloody 36-year civil war.

The panel found after two months of testimony that Rios Montt knew about the slaughter of at least 1,771 Ixil Mayans in the western highlands and did
nothing to stop it.

Rios Montt’s lawyers immediately filed an appeal, and he spent three days in prison
before he was moved to a military hospital, where he remains.

The court has decided to throw out his conviction because the trial should have been stopped while appeals filed by the defence were resolved.

Defence lawyer Francisco Garcia Gudiel yesterday said he would seek the former dictator’s freedom as soon as possible.

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He said: “There is no alternative. The court has made a legal resolution after many flaws in the process. We will ask that they liberate the general, who is being imprisoned unjustly.”

Representatives of the victims who testified against Rios Montt were not available for comment last night.

The proceedings, which started in March, had been whipped back and forth since 18 April, when a Guatemalan judge
ordered the trial should be
restarted just as it was nearing closing arguments.

Judge Carol Patricia Flores had recently been reinstated by the constitutional court after being recused in February 2012. She ruled that all actions taken in the case since she was first asked to step down were null, sending the trial back to square one.

The next day, 19 April, the tribunal hearing the oral part of the trial asked the constitutional court to decide if the proceedings should continue.

The trial was suspended for 12 days amid appeals. It resumed on 30 April, and on 10 May the three-judge tribunal found Rios Montt guilty after more than 100 witnesses and experts testified about mass rapes and the killings of women and children and other atrocities committed by government troops.

Rios Montt ruled Guatemala in 1982-83 following a military coup.

Survivors and relatives of victims had sought for 30 years to punish Rios Montt.

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For international observers and Guatemalans on both sides of the war, the trial was seen as a turning point in a nation still wrestling with the trauma of a conflict that killed some 200,000 people.

The defence constantly claimed flaws and miscarriages of justice.

Courts solved more than 100 complaints and injunctions filed by the defence before the trial even started.

Rios Montt’s team had walked out on 18 April, arguing that it could not continue to be part of proceedings.