Reports that the retrial of former Guatemalan President General Efraín Ríos Montt will not begin until January 2015 amount to a disappointing deferral of justice for genocide victims and their relatives, Amnesty International said today.
“This decision to further delay is a letdown for genocide victims and their families who have already waited over three decades, and fought hard to ensure Ríos Montt was held to account in the courts,” said Sebastian Elgueta, Guatemala researcher at Amnesty International.
Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity on 10 May this year by a criminal court in Guatemala City. The conviction was effectively annulled 10 days later by the Constitutional Court, Guatemala’s highest court, on a technicality.
“It was hoped that the retrial, made necessary by the Constitutional Court’s decision, would take place much earlier given the huge delay victims have already suffered and the importance of this landmark case,” said Elgueta.
Reports that Guatemala may open the door to an amnesty for former President Effrain Ríos Montt would be a travesty of justice and send the country back more than a decade, said Amnesty International.
Ríos Montt is facing a re-trial for genocide and crimes against humanity.
“This is an alarming new development that, if confirmed, would set the country back decades. Amnesties can never be applied to genocide and crimes against humanity,” said Sebastian Elgueta, Guatemala researcher at Amnesty International.
“With such a decision, Guatemala’s authorities would destroy, with one signature, decades of progress when it comes to justice for the tens of thousands of people who died and were disappeared during the dark years of the conflict.”
According to media reports, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court has ordered that more details be provided as to why Ríos Montt’s request for amnesty was refused. This raises the possibility that amnesty is being seriously considered, closing the case against him and others facing similar charges.
Guatemala's Constitutional Court on Monday overturned the recent conviction and sentencing of former military ruler Efrain Rios Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity.
"Monday's ruling is a devastating blow for the victims of the serious human rights violations committed during the conflict," said Sebastian Elgueta, Amnesty International's researcher on Guatemala.
"The legal basis for the ruling is unclear, and it is uncertain how the trial court can hit the reset button to get back to a point in mid-April. What is clear is that the Constitutional Court has just thrown up formidable obstacles to justice and accountability for a harrowing period in Guatemala's recent history.
"With the sentence on 10 May, the trial court had sent a strong signal that crimes against thousands of Mayan victims would not be tolerated. The Constitutional Court has now questioned that message, putting the right to truth, justice and reparation at risk in Guatemala."
By Val Croft, an Amnesty activist from Toronto with a passionate commitment to human rights in Guatemala.
Photo: An Ixil woman is sworn in before giving her testimony in the genocide case against former de facto president Efrain Rios Montt, who listens via headphones in the background. On May 10, Rios Montt was sentenced to 80 years for genocide and crimes against humanity. By Roderico Y Díaz
I’m still reeling from being in the courtroom last Friday when supporters of justice burst into applause as Guatemalan ex de facto president Efrain Rios Montt became the first former head of state in Latin America to be convicted on charges of genocide.
The conviction of Guatemala’sex-president General Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity during his time in office is a historic step in the nation’s long struggle for justice, Amnesty International said today.
Gen.Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted and sentenced to 80 years for his role as the intellectual author of the killings of 1,771 individuals and the forced displacement of tens of thousands more from the Ixil triangle region of southern Quiché department in 1982 and 1983 in the midst of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict.
Gen.José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, General Ríos Montt’s head of intelligence during his time in power, was found not guilty on the same charges.
“With this conviction,Guatemala leads by example in a region where entrenched impunity for past crimes sadly remains the norm,” said Sebastian Elgueta, Guatemala Researcher at Amnesty International.
The verdict in the genocide trial against former Guatemalan military ruler Efraín Ríos Montt is expected later today on Friday, 10 May.
He faces up to 75 years of imprisonment on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for a series of massacres committed by the Guatemalan military in March 1982 till August 1983 in the area known as Ixil triangle. It was one of the bloodiest chapters in the country’s internal armed conflict, which lasted 36 years and resulted in the killings or disappearances of more than 200,000 people – many of them indigenous.
Sebastian Elgueta, Amnesty International’s researcher on Guatemala will be available over the weekend to comment on the verdict of this historic trial, the first to hold a Central American former head of state to account for gross human rights violations.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations, 416-363-9933 ext 332
1. Guatemala is located in Central America, bordering Mexico. Around half of its population is indigenous, including many Maya peoples. The country is one of the most unequal in the region – with high rates of illiteracy, infant mortality and malnutrition, particularly in the countryside. Organized crime and violence are also widespread.
2. Between 1960 and 1996, Guatemala was immersed in a bloody internal armed conflict that pitted the army against guerrilla groups. More than 200,000 men, women and children were murdered or disappeared during this 36-year-long war, most of them were indigenous.
The Salvadoran authorities must urgently comply with a sentence issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights this Monday, by providing a seriously ill pregnant woman with vital medical treatment within 72 hours.
Beatriz, a 22-year-old woman, is four-and-a-half months pregnant and has been diagnosed with a number of severe illnesses, including lupus and kidney disease. Doctors have also confirmed that the foetus she is carrying is missing a large part of its brain and skull, which means it is expected to die before it is born, or within a few hours or days after birth.
The doctors have also stated that Beatriz could die if she continues with the pregnancy, but they have not provided her with the treatment she needs as they fear that if they interrupt the pregnancy they could be prosecuted under the strict laws which criminalize abortion in the country.
"Beatriz's life is hanging in the balance because of unjustifiable delays on behalf of the authorities," said Esther Major, Amnesty International's researcher on Central America.
The decision to annul the Guatemalan genocide trial of Generals Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez must be overturned urgently or risk strengthening impunity and weakening the rule of law, Amnesty International said today.
According to Guatemalan law, the decision will stand unless it can be reversed in the next 10 days.
“This trial represented a hope of justice for victims of crimes against humanity and crimes under international law in Guatemala,” said Sebastian Elgueta, researcher on Guatemala at Amnesty International.
“The consequences of this decision may set back the clock in Guatemala to a time when impunity was the norm for those types of crimes.”
The trial of General José Efrain Ríos Montt, former head of state between 1982 and 1983, and his former head of intelligence General Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, for charges of genocide and crimes against humanity opened on 19 March 2013. More than 100 witnesses and experts have already testified in court and the trial was in its final days.
Great news! After Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti received over 1,000 letters from around the world on Maria Isabel Franco's case, she has promised to act in support of the murder investigation - and on violence against women in Guatemala more generally.
Maria's case was featured in Amnesty International's worldwide letter-writing event Write for Rights, held every year on December 10th, International Human Rights Day.
"As a state we still have some work to do, but as Vice President I am committed to the goal that, by the end of the administration of President Otto Perez Molina, the conditions of the Guatemalan population - and especially women and girls - will have been significantly improved."
The trial of Guatemala’s ex-president General Efraín Ríos Montt and his former head of military intelligence Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez -due to start on Tuesday 19 March – marks a long-awaited opportunity for justice for the victims of crimes against humanity committed against Guatemala’s Mayan communities, Amnesty International said today.
In 1999, a UN-backed truth commission found that during Guatemala’s 36-year internal armed conflict (1960-1996) some 200,000 people - over 80% of whom were of Mayan descent - were killed or disappeared, and that genocide had occurred.
Montt and Sánchez, are to be tried as the intellectual authors of the killings of 1,771 individuals and the forced displacement of tens of thousands more from the Ixil triangle region of southern Quiché department.
“This moment is truly historic because it is the first time that a former head of state in Central America is to be put on trial for crimes under international law,” said Guadalupe Marengo, director of Amnesty International’s Americas Programme.
Yesterday’s ruling that General Efraín Ríos Montt and his former head of military intelligence, General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, should stand trial for the massacre of almost two thousand people in the 1980s is a crucial step towards justice, truth and reparation, Amnesty International said today.
Ríos Montt, who held power from March 1982 to August 1983, and Rodríguez Sánchez will be tried for their alleged responsibility over the deaths of the mainly Mayan villagers in a series of massacres during that period.
“This decision strengthens justice in Guatemala, as accountability for past crimes begins to emerge,” said Sebastian Elgueta, Amnesty International researcher on Central America.
“What is important is to ensure justice, truth and reparation for the families and victims of thousands of other human rights violations.
A 1999 UN-backed truth commission found that during Guatemala’s 36-year internal armed conflict (1960-1996) some 200,000 people were killed or disappeared.
Authorities in Guatemala are putting the lives of women at risk by systematically failing to protect them and ensure those responsible for the hundreds of killings that take place each year face justice, Amnesty International said today after it emerged two young girls and two women had been brutally slain.
On 16 January, the bodies of the two girls were found in a street in Guatemala City. Two other women were also found dead, in separate locations.
Around 560 women were murdered in Guatemala in 2012, 631 in 2011 and 695 in 2010, according to official figures.
Less than 4 per cent of all homicide cases result in perpetrators being convicted. Guatemala’s congress passed a law in 2008 that typified various crimes of violence against women and established special tribunals and sentencing guidelines, but this has not stemmed the violence.
“There is no let-up in the cases of killings of women and girls recorded every month, despite the national scandal this has become for Guatemala,” said Sebastian Elgueta, Guatemala researcher at Amnesty International.