Guatemala Transitional Justice Update: Reports of Second Rios Montt Prosecution and Efforts to Criminally Prosecute Judges

In recent news related to transitional justice in Guatemala, there have been reports that the Constitutional Court cleared a hurdle to allow former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt to face genocide charges in a second case, which is related to the 1982 massacre of the village of Dos Erres, even though prosecutors intend only to prosecute him for homicide. A lawyer for recently convicted police official Pedro Garcia Arredondo also sought to bring criminal charges against the three judges who convicted his client for his role in the Spanish embassy fire. Meanwhile, a presidential commission considers whether to support the continuation of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), due to finish its fourth term in September.

Reports Around Second Criminal Prosecution Against Rios Montt, Concerning Dos Erres Massacre

On February 7, 2015, Guatemalan media declared that the constitutional court cleared one hurdle for the prosecution of General Efraín Rios Montt in relation to his role in the December 1982 massacre of 201 people in Dos Erres. 

In the Dos Erres case, prosecutors allege that the former head of state was responsible for the Dos Erres massacre because he authorized the intervention of a special elite patrol, so-called “kaibiles.” Kaibiles massacred nearly the entire population of Dos Erres before burying the corpses in a well and burning down local houses.

After earlier convictions of kaibiles implicated in the same crimes, Guatemalan high-risk courts ordered the state to investigate the intellectual author of the village massacre. In May 2012, the prosecutor presented charges against Rios Montt as the intellectual author. In a May 2012 hearing, investigative Judge Carol Patricia Flores found reasonable evidence to believe that the former dictator could face charges for the massacre, but independently, and against the wishes of the prosecutor and civil parties, changed the recommended charge from homicide to genocide.

With a charge of genocide, Rios Montt was granted house arrest on the payment of bail. Article 264 of the Criminal Procedure Code in Guatemala prevents the payment of bail for homicide charges and requires pre-trial detention in prison.

The judicial process has been paralyzed since then as the public prosecutor and the civil party sought to separate Judge Flores from the case and do not intend to prove that the Dos Erres massacre constituted genocide.

The parties were notified in June 2014 of an earlier constitutional court decision provisionally rejecting the efforts by the prosecutor and civil parties to recuse Judge Flores. No final decision has been taken yet, and Guatemalan media reported on this provisional decision in early February.

The prosecution is, however, unlikely to progress given Rios Montt’s poor state of health and thwarted efforts to retry him for genocide, following an earlier conviction, in connection with the Ixil massacres. Judge Flores is also the investigative judge in the other case against General Rios Montt and, since a January 5 suspension of a new trial, she has refused to conduct any hearing until the National Institute of Forensic Sciences confirms that Rios Montt is able to attend court.

Following Conviction, Pedro Garcia Arredondo’s Attorney Presents Criminal Complaint Against Judges

On February 5, 2015, Moises Galindo, the attorney for Pedro Garcia Arredondo, presented a complaint to the public prosecutor against the three judges of the high-risk court, Jeannette Valdes, Sara Yoc, and Maria Castellanos, who recently convicted Arredondo for his role in the 1980 Spanish embassy fire that killed 37 people.

In his complaint, Galindo accuses the three high-risk court judges of abuse of authority, breach of duties, and corruption of justice. The complaint alleges that the tribunal demonstrated partiality when, during an October 30, 2014 hearing, Judge Valdes expressed her sympathies to a witness who lost her mother in the fire and asked for forgiveness. The court convicted Arredondo on January 19, 2015.

Arredondo’s lawyer also appealed the verdict on February 13, 2015.

Commission Considers the Future of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala

The president has established a commission to consider and advise whether to extend the mandate of CICIG. CICIG is a joint effort of the United Nations and the Guatemalan government, with financial support from the international community. After three extensions of successive two-year mandates since it started operations in 2007, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina must now determine whether to request that the United Nations renew CICIG’s term after September 2015.

The presidential commission is composed of Supreme Court President Josué Baquiax, Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, Attorney General Thelma Aldana, and the head of the Public Defense Institution, Remberto Ruiz.

Ivan Velasquez, the CICIG commissioner, will make a presentation to the commission and civil society organizations may also make representations.