International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Lucas García, Former Head of the Military High Command, to be Charged in Molina Theissen Case

At a hearing on August 13 in the Molina Theissen enforced disappearance case, the Attorney General’s Office was prepared to present new charges against the four defendants in the case, all high-ranking military officials from the worst years of Guatemala’s internal conflict. Prosecutors also had a surprise: they intended to present a formal accusation against Benedicto Lucas García, the brother of former dictator Romeo Lucas García and head of the Military High Command (Estado Mayor del Ejército) between 1978 and 1982. Lucas García is currently being prosecuted, along with seven other military officers, in the CREOMPAZ case. In this intermediate phase of the proceedings, the court will determine whether the case should proceed to trial.

However, the hearing was delayed because the … Continue Reading

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Congressman Ovalle and the CREOMPAZ Case: Congressional Immunity or Impunity?

Retired military officer Edgar Justino Ovalle was elected to Guatemala’s Congress last September on the ticket of the National Convergence Front (FCN), a party he founded along with other military officers, in 2004. That saved him from being arrested on January 6, alongside 14 other high-ranking military officers, in relation to the CREOMPAZ case, which Attorney General Thelma Aldana has described as “one of the largest case of forced disappearance in Latin America.”

As previously reported, eight of those 14 officials will face a public trial for their role in enforced disappearance and other crimes against humanity in relation to this case. Ovalle, on the other hand, was sworn in as a member of Congress on January 14. This was despite … Continue Reading

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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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