Prosecution of Guatemala’s human rights violators faces uncertain future

10 March 2015 by Louisa Reynolds, Guatemala City (Guatemala)

The road to justice for the victims of human rights violations committed during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war has been long and fraught with obstacles. Prosecuting wartime violators has proven slow. And with the September elections looming and the UN-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) about to conclude its mandate, the outcome of current and future trials grows increasingly uncertain.

Former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on trial for genocide in May 2013 in Guatemala City (Photo: Flickr/coolloud)
Image caption: 
Former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on trial for genocide in May 2013 in Guatemala City (Photo: Flickr/coolloud)

Recent successes do include convicting former high-ranking police official Pedro García Arredondo for his role in a 1980 embassy assault that left 37 people dead and, more recently, the Constitutional Court clearing obstacles for the prosecution of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt for the Dos Erres massacre. However, Ríos Montt’s retrial in another criminal prosecution for the genocide perpetrated against the Mayan Ixil people remains stalled and deteriorating health makes his participation unlikely.

On 19 January, García Arredondo was sentenced to 90 years in prison. A court determined that he was key among the military and police officers who ordered a brutal attack on Spanish embassy occupiers desperate to draw attention to the massacres perpetrated by the army in the highlands. Indigenous leaders, student protestors and embassy staff were burnt alive after officers attacked them with a flamethrower and prevented firemen from rescuing them.

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