International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Guatemalan Court Ruling on Attorney General’s Term Undermines Rule of Law

NEW YORK—A ruling by Guatemala’s constitutional court that cuts short the term of the country’s attorney general jeopardizes the country’s decades-long transition to constitutional democracy, the Open Society Justice Initiative said today.

Claudia Paz y Paz was appointed attorney general in December 2010 for a full period of four years, but the court’s decision calls for her term to end this May. Guatemala’s constitution (Article 251) states that the attorney general’s term will last for four years and that she can only be removed from office by the president for “duly established cause.”

The constitutional court decision relied on 20-year-old transitional provisions of the country’s constitution, and was issued following a challenge lodged by a Guatemalan businessman. In its brief decision, the … Continue Reading

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Guatemala’s Constitutional Court Calls for Pioneering Attorney General to Step Down Early

In Guatemala yesterday, the Constitutional Court ruled that the country’s top lawyer must step down earlier than planned. Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz is a champion reformer, and has been a bright light in the violence-plagued country notorious for impunity.

The question about the date at which Paz y Paz’ term appropriately ends has been contentious in Guatemala. She has made notable reforms, strengthening the Public Ministry to enhance successful prosecutions, including for violent crime, narco-trafficking, corruption and human rights violations. In doing so, she has also created enemies, even more so after the prosecutor’s short-lived success in convicting former military head of state José Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity last year.

The Constitutional Court’s decision shifts … Continue Reading

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Guatemala Justice Update, January 2014

When trial judges in Guatemala convicted their own former head of state, Efrain Rios Montt, of genocide last May—a worldwide first—the rule of law set down roots in a country renowned for impunity.  Subsequent events have shown how fragile those roots are.

Only days after the dictator’s conviction for his role in massacres of the indigenous Ixil during the country’s internal armed conflict, the Constitutional Court, in a divided and controversial judgment, annulled the ruling, forcing the disqualification of the trial court and upending the judicial process. Adding further confusion, in an October ruling, the Constitutional Court did not foreclose the possibility that a decades-old amnesty law could prevent the prosecution altogether, despite clear domestic and international prohibitions against the application … Continue Reading

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Summary of trial and excerpts of judgment available

The Open Society Justice Initiative has just published a summary of the six week trial of Efrain Rios Montt based on the daily monitoring reports from this website.

The 56-page book, Judging a Dictator: The Trial of Guatemala’s Rios Montt, also includes an English translation of excerpts from the 718-page judgment against Rios Montt (specifically Section III of the judgment, covering the facts regarded by the court as proven (pages 103-45) and Section V, covering the charges proven against Rios Montt (pages 682-703).

Also available on the Open Society site is a fuller English translation of key sections of the judgment, and a translated text of the constitutional court ruling that led to the cancellation of the guilty verdict against Rios Montt, … Continue Reading

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Guatemala Faces Human Rights Complaint over Rios Montt Trial Debacle

Tiburcio Utuy was tortured at the hands of the Guatemalan military in early 1983, under the military dictatorship of Efrain Rios Montt. Three decades later, Tiburcio was among those who successfully brought about the prosecution of Rios Montt for genocide and other crimes in a Guatemalan court—a trial which ended in April with a guilty verdict being overturned by a legally questionable ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court.

Now Tiburcio is speaking out about his experiences once more, as Guatemalan civil society groups challenge the overturning of the Rios Montt verdict, in a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington D.C.

The Guatemalan military committed three massacres in Tiburcio’s community in early 1983, forcing him to flee to the … Continue Reading

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Judging Rios Montt in the Face of Obstacles – Interview with Judge Yassmin Barrios

(This interview was conducted by Blanche Petrich of La Jornada.)

In a middle-class neighborhood of Guatemala City, the nation’s capital, three National Police patrol officers are stationed permanently in front of a black metal entryway. They guard a judge, Yassmín Barrios, who this past May 10 was called on to issue the following ruling, after sounding the proverbial gavel in a courtroom:

“That the defendant José Efrain Ríos Montt is responsible as the perpetrator of crimes against humanity and genocide, committed against the life and safety of civilian residents of the villages and hamlets located in Santa María Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal, and San Gaspar Chajul. For this crime he should be sentenced to 30 years in prison without parole.”

Despite the security … Continue Reading

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Interview with Juan Francisco Soto, Director of CALDH

This interview first appeared on 25 July in Plaza Pública. The original is available at http://www.plazapublica.com.gt/content/del-cielo-al-infierno-en-una-semana

Twelve years went by before the querella lodged by the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) against the military high command finally got to court. It took two months for a judgment to be issued. And in just ten days, the conviction was annulled.

Juan Francisco Soto is the director of CALDH, one of the two associations that joined the genocide trial of Efraín Ríos Montt y José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez as querellantes. Two months after the case, Soto recounts the key moments in the trial, evaluates the situation and talks about the most heated controversies raised by the trial.

What is the current mood … Continue Reading

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Ixil genocide trial on hold, other charges against Rios Montt continue

With the events of recent weeks – the May 20 Constitutional Court decision to undo the guilty verdict in the Rios Montt trial and the new trial court’s expressed unavailability until April 2014 – it seems that continued legal proceedings against Rios Montt in the Ixil genocide trial will be in the best of scenarios on hold. However, there have been further developments in connection with another set of charges against former Guatemalan de facto president Efraín Rios Montt.

Yesterday, June 24, Judge Carol Patricia Flores ruled on a request for her disqualification as a pre-trial judge in the case of the massacre at Dos Erres. The civil party FAMDEGUA (Association of the Families of the Disappeared of Guatemala) sought her … Continue Reading

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Naomi Roht-Arriaza & Susan Kemp: The Rios Montt judgment in light of international law

Although it is unclear whether the trial of Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez will be resumed, it is worth evaluating the only document that specifically examines the question of guilt or innocence of the accused: the judgment of May 10, which in the eyes of world will probably end up being the final pronouncement on the case. That judgment has already started to circulate around the world, creating a legal precedent and contributing to the work of other national and international courts on the issue.

For example, the judgment emphasizes sexual violence against women and girls, noting that not only does such crime include acts that cause physical and mental damage but also that it demonstrates an intent to … Continue Reading

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One Month After Guatemala’s Constitutional Court Intervenes to Challenge Rios Montt Genocide Conviction: Amnesty Back on the Table, New Trial Court Booked Till Mid-2014, and Rios Montt Back Home

On May 20, almost one month ago, the news that Guatemala’s highest court partially annulled the judgment and trial in the case of Efrain Rios Montt, essentially on a technicality, shook Guatemala and the international community. The Constitutional Court issued its resolution only three days after the trial court had issued its extensively detailed judgment laying the basis for the genocide and crimes against humanity conviction of the former dictator who ruled Guatemala during the bloodiest period of the country’s 36-year armed conflict. This was the first conviction of a former head of state for genocide in a domestic court, but followed a line of cases prosecuting military leaders, particularly in Latin America, for crimes committed during some of the … Continue Reading

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