International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Guatemala Grave Crimes Cases Delayed

While a Guatemalan court has found sufficient evidence to bring the CREOMPAZ case to trial, aspects of its decision have been challenged by plaintiffs. The proceedings are on stand-by until the appeals are decided. In the Molina Theissen case, the hearing to determine whether the case goes to trial has again been delayed; this time because the case will be transferred to the High Risk Tribunal system. The Maya Ixil genocide case also remains stalled as defense counsel for former chief of intelligence José Manuel Rodríguez Sánchez appeals the recent decision to separate the proceedings against him and co-defendant former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt.

These delays unfolded amidst a controversy that arose after President Jimmy Morales announced that the annual … Continue Reading

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Grave Crimes Case Brief: The Molina Theissen Case

A hearing is scheduled today in Guatemala City in the high-profile Molina Theissen grave crimes case. The case is presently being heard by the Fifth Criminal Court, with Judith Secaida as presiding judge. The original request by the Attorney General’s (AG) Office to try the case in the High Risk Tribunal system was rejected but was approved on appeal.

The first arrests in the Molina Theissen case occurred on January 6, 2016, when four high-ranking retired military officers were arrested. (On the same day, fourteen military officers were also arrested in the CREOMPAZ case.) They are accused of crimes against humanity, aggravated assault, and enforced disappearance of 14-year-old Marco Antonio Molina Theissen and sexual violence and torture of his sister, Emma … Continue Reading

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Eight Military Officers to Stand Trial in CREOMPAZ Grave Crimes Case

In the CREOMPAZ case of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during Guatemala’s 36-year armed conflict, a court has found sufficient evidence to proceed to trial against eight of ten military officers accused by the Attorney General’s (AG) Office, including retired general and former army Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas García.

The case will be heard by High Risk Tribunal “A,” comprised of judges Herbie Sical, Yassmín Barrios, and Patricia Bustamante. This is the same tribunal that emitted the February conviction in the Sepur Zarco case; Barrios and Bustamante were judges in the Ríos Montt genocide trial. Various appeals still need to be resolved before a full trial can begin.

In the concluding phase of a pretrial hearing held in … Continue Reading

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CREOMPAZ Hearings Conclude; Tribunal to Determine if Case Goes to Trial

On January 6, 2016, the arrest of 18 high-ranking military officers on charges of human rights violations connected to the most violent years of Guatemalan armed conflict convulsed Guatemala. While some transitional justice cases have moved forward in recent years, these arrests are different because of the number of officials involved and because those arrested are high-ranking military officials who are believed to be responsible for some of the worst abuses during the Guatemalan counterinsurgency war in the 1980s. Four of the 18 officers arrested were charged in the case of the enforced disappearances of 14-year old Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, while the remaining 14 were charged in the CREOMPAZ case. The now retired military officers are accused of criminal … Continue Reading

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Appeals Court Upholds Suspension of Ríos Montt Genocide Trial

The retrial trial against former head of state General José Efraín Ríos Montt and his former chief of intelligence (“G2”) General Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Maya Ixil population has been definitively suspended.

The First Court of Appeals (Sala Primera de Apelaciones) has upheld its earlier provisional ruling granting an amparo (a protective measure similar to a writ of habeas corpus) presented by the civil parties to the case, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) and the Justice and Reconciliation Association (AJR), claiming that the proceedings violated Guatemalan law. CALDH and AJR argued that the proceedings were illegal and should be split into two separate trials.

The provisional ruling handed down by … Continue Reading

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Genocide Trial Suspended; Plaintiffs Claim Proceedings Illegal

The second genocide trial against José Efráin Ríos Montt and José Manuel Rodríguez Sánchez, which started on March 16 behind closed doors and amidst controversy, was abruptly interrupted this past Wednesday after an appeals court granted a provisional amparo (protective measure similar to a writ of habeas corpus) filed by the civil parties representing the victims in the case, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) and the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH). The amparo filed by the plaintiffs claims that the proceedings are illegal under Guatemalan law.

Last August, after Ríos Montt was diagnosed with dementia, High Risk Tribunal B, which oversees the case, ruled that he lacked the mental capacity to face a regular trial. But, citing … Continue Reading

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Key Hearings Start in War Crimes Trial Against High-Ranking Military Officers in Guatemala

The intermediate phase of the CREOMPAZ case got underway yesterday as the first in a series of preliminary hearings was held before High Risk Tribunal A, presided over by Judge Claudette Domínguez. The proceedings will determine whether several high-ranking military officials will go to trial for war crimes committed in the 1980s, the worst years of violence in a 36-year internal conflict that claimed 200,000 lives, the majority of them from the indigenous Mayan population.

On January 6, 18 high-ranking retired military officers were arrested for war crimes, 14 in relation to the CREOMPAZ case and four in relation to the case of the 1982 forced disappearance of 14-year old Marco Antonio Molina Theissen. On January 18, 11 of the 14 … Continue Reading

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Major Breakthrough for Guatemala Grave Crimes Cases: Judge Seizes Previously Denied Military Documents

Yesterday saw a stunning development in the Diario Militar (Military Diary) case. In a pre-trial hearing that was initially closed, pre-trial judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez decided to open the hearing to the public and press, and then revealed that he had in his possession new military documents pertaining to the case. Judge Gálvez explained that during a hearing held at the compound of the General Staff of the Ministry of Defense on March 4, he ordered the sequestering of the documents and that he was now making them available to the parties in the case. This is a major development, in part because since the signing of the Peace Agreements in 1996, the Guatemalan army has repeatedly denied the existence … Continue Reading

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Progress and Controversy in Guatemala Grave Crimes Cases

The January arrest of 18 former senior military officers in two high-profile cases, followed by the landmark trial and conviction in the Sepur Zarco sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery case, energized Guatemala’s transitional justice process in early 2016. Since then, the genocide retrial of former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt and his former chief of intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, has gotten off to a rocky and controversial start. This report provides a brief update on the status of each of these cases.

New Genocide Trial

After several false starts, the retrial proceedings against Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez in the Maya Ixil genocide case began on March 16 in special closed-door proceedings. The trial started despite controversy about the … Continue Reading

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Against the Odds: New Podcast Tells the Story of CICIG in Guatemala

In 2007, facing rampant violence and corruption, the government of Guatemala asked the United Nations to provide institutional support for its beleaguered criminal justice system.

At first, the new International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (known by its Spanish acronym, CICIG) seemed to have little chance of success. Its team of international and local investigators and lawyers faced determined opposition from entrenched powers in Guatemala. It was hampered by misconceptions at the UN and uncertainty over its mandate. Despite some successes, periods of frustration and drift led to the resignations of its first two commissioners.

Yet CICIG has helped Guatemala score a series of dramatic victories for the rule of law, including the spectacular exposure in 2015 of the massive La Línea corruption scheme, … Continue Reading

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