Tribunal Says Annulment Order is Illegal, Suspends Trial Pending Review by Constitutional Court

Despite the uncertainty caused by Judge Carol Patricia Flores’s resolution on Thursday vacating the genocide proceedings, the tribunal reconvened briefly on Friday, April 19, so that the three-judge panel could issue a statement making clear that the trial would continue.

The large courtroom in Guatemala’s Palace of Justice was full to overflowing on the morning after the dramatic developments that threatened to put an end to the trial. Dozens of people who arrived after 8 am were turned away for lack of space. The prosecution table was crowded with lawyers and querellantes (representatives of the civil parties), while on the defense side of the chamber sat the accused, Efraín Ríos Montt and Jose Rodríguez Sánchez, sitting alone without their attorneys.

U.S. Ambassador Arnold Chacon was present in the courtroom, as were officers from other foreign embassies. Francisco Dall’Anese, head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), arrived and sat in the first row. (CICIG released a statement on Thursday expressing concern about a recent spate of paid advertisements, news supplements and broadcasts that condemned the genocide case and warned of possible violence).

By the time Judge Yazmín Barrios and her two colleagues arrived, the atmosphere in the packed chamber was electric with anticipation. Barrios read from a prepared statement. She declared, “We do not accept the resolution emitted by Judge Patricia Flores.” The courtroom broke into cheers and applause. Barrios waited and then thanked the spectators, asking them to permit her to finish.

Barrios said that the tribunal has complied with the order of the Constitutional Court by incorporating the evidence proffered by the defense, and that the order to annul proceedings was carried out in an illegal manner. “We will not permit the infringement of this tribunal’s independence. We are not obliged to comply with an order that violates our jurisdiction. We obey the Constitution, and the Constitutional Court is the only instance that can decide to annul a trial. This is content of our resolution.”

Barrios then declared that the trial would be temporarily suspended so that the Constitutional Court could resolve the legal issue at stake.

Prosecutor Orlando López requested that in light of the failure of the defense attorneys to appear, the court designate public defenders to represent the accused. After a brief conference, the judges agreed. Some spectators sitting near the defendants began to hiss.

As the judges stood up to leave, Barrios said into the microphone, “The tribunal appreciates your confidence in the justice system.”

The courtroom erupted into wild applause and chants of “Justice! Justice! Justice!” “Todos somos Ixiles!” (We are all Ixiles!) Judge Barrios, with her colleagues flanking her, stood impassively as the spectators cheered, and then crossed her arms in front of her chest as though sending a hug to the crowd andnodded her head in acknowledgment. The hearing was over.


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