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 recusal on the ground of bias. She ruled that she was competent to continue overseeing the pre-trial stages of the case.
In the Dos Erres case, Rios Montt is charged in connection with the December 1982 killing of 201 people. At the time of the massacre, the population of the Dos Erres community was approximately 700 people. The victims were farmers and settlers who had migrated to the area, mostly from eastern Guatemala, within the twenty years prior to the massacre. The prosecution charges that the Rios Montt government ordered the massacre of the villagers, the destruction of property and the displacement of survivors because the military accused them of collaborating with guerrilla factions.
Guatemalan courts have already convicted various low-level soldiers and paramilitary members in connection with the massacre, but this is the first case charging those believed to be senior commanders, those believed to be the intellectual authors. Others previously convicted in connection with the Dos Erres massacre were charged with – and convicted of – murder and crimes against humanity. Rios Montt also faced similar charges. However, at an earlier pre-trial hearing, Judge Flores modified the charges to genocide. This is part of the basis for the efforts to seek her disqualification. The prosecution and civil party never alleged that the Dos Erres massacre constituted a genocide.
In another matter, expected to be decided today, June 25, the prosecution requested, on June 17, that Judge Flores also be recused from considering pre-trial matters in connection with any charges against Mario Lopez Fuentes, also on the ground of bias. Lopez Fuentes, head of the Estado Mayor de Defensa under Rios Montt, had also earlier been charged in the Ixil genocide case though, for reasons of health, had not been prosecuted alongside Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, his then head of military intelligence. During the Ixil genocide trial before Judge Yassmin Barrios’ court, Judge Flores attempted to annul the process, near and then after its endpoint, and send the case back to a period before Rios Montt or his co-accused had even been indicted. The Constitutional Court, during the trial, rejected Judge Flores’ efforts to annul the trial.
Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz continued to stress the importance of prosecutions for international crimes committed in Guatemala for which there have been few held accountability. She affirmed that “there are groups of people who remain with impunity, in structures tied to narcotrafficking and corruption.” Also, a group of organizations and individuals supporting the genocide trial marched in Guatemala yesterday in support of justice.
Also, in connection with the Rios Montt genocide trial, a group of more than 30 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) sent a letter last week to Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina expressing concern about developments in connection with the Rios Montt genocide trial. The letter urged the continuation of the trial with full respect for fair trial standards. The letter lauded the “important and commendable efforts to deal with the past.”
Alejandra Otero-Ruiz contributed to the research and writing of this blog.