New start date as Ríos Montt genocide trial inches forward

16 June 2015 by Louisa Reynolds, Guatemala City (Guatemala)

After repeated delays, the retrial of former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and his head of intelligence, facing charges of genocide and crimes and against humanity, is scheduled to begin on 23 July. Prosecution of Guatemala’s human rights violators has been hindered by endless delays as defence teams have used a myriad of excuses – particularly defendants’ purported ill health – to prevent trials from moving forward. But even though progress has been painfully slow, witnesses remain upbeat and determined to testify.

Ixil Mayan women attend Rios Montt trial in Guatemala in April 2013 (Photo: Flickr/9975353@N0)
Image caption: 
Ixil Mayan women attend Rios Montt trial in Guatemala in April 2013 (Photo: Flickr/9975353@N0)

The new trial will begin more than two years after Ríos Montt was first convicted for the genocide perpetrated against the Mayan Ixil people under his 1982-1983 de-facto rule. It was at the same time as his May 2013 conviction that former head of intelligence Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez was acquitted. The conviction was later annulled on a technicality and the entire case was sent back for a retrial [IJT-177, IJT-175].

The Historical Clarification Commission (CEH), Guatemala’s truth and reconciliation commission, estimates that 200,000 people were killed or disappeared during the 1960-1996 civil war, and one of its bloodiest phases was Ríos Montt’s short dictatorship.

Ill health as a recurrent excuse

The major stumbling block in the new proceedings is Ríos Montt’s reported ill health. On first appearing in court in 2013, the former dictator often chose to stand throughout proceedings; he was coherent and delivered a long closing speech before being sentenced.

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