Rios Montt Set to be Retried on July 23

A new date has been set for the reopening of a second trial of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt and his then head of military intelligence, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, for genocide and crimes against humanity. The new trial, scheduled to begin July 23, 2015, would come more than two years after Rios Montt was first convicted of genocide.

Rios Montt was convicted and Rodriguez Sanchez acquitted in May 2013. However, the constitutional court annulled the verdict on a technicality and effectively ordered a new trial. The second trial commenced on January 5, 2015 but was quickly suspended after Rios Montt succeeded in forcing the recusal of one judge with a last minute objection.

Any new trial still remains far from certain. Rios Montt’s health situation is worsening due to his advanced age. For the hearing held on January 5, Rios Montt was wheeled into court on a gurney only after the court ordered his presence.

Investigative judge Carol Patricia Flores has since ordered the national forensic institute to provide weekly updates on the state of Rios Montt’s health. Most recently, the forensic institute found that Rios Montt’s deteriorating health also affected his mental capacity, leading Judge Flores to request a psychiatric evaluation. Rios Montt’s defense lawyers could seek closure of the case if he is deemed unfit for trial. In order to ensure the right to defense, the law prohibits criminal prosecution where the defendant is intellectually incapacitated.

Hector Reyes, a lawyer for the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH), which represents the victims, asserted that the court claimed it will provide measures to ensure that Rios Montt is able to participate in his defense even if he cannot be physically present in the courtroom, suggesting the possibility of his participation by video conference.

Rodriguez Sanchez could still face trial as his health has not been in question. He was acquitted in the earlier trial on the grounds that his involvement in the crimes had not been sufficiently established and, as head of military intelligence, he did not have command responsibility.

Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez face charges related to the death of 1,771 Mayan Ixil indigenous people between March 1982 and August 1983 and the displacement, torture, and rape of others.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court unanimously authorized congress to consider whether President Otto Perez Molina should be impeached. This follows allegations from legislator Amilcar Pop that the president participated in two corruption scandals that have gripped the nation for the past two months and led to mass protests calling on the president to resign.

Tomorrow afternoon the Guatemalan congress is due to hold a special session to identify a five-member committee to assess whether the president must relinquish his immunity and face prosecution. Following a report of this committee, a vote of two-thirds of the members of congress is required for the president to lose immunity. No prior Guatemalan president, following the peace accords, has faced impeachment proceedings. President Perez Molina continues to proclaim his innocence.