International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Rios Montt Transferred to Psychiatric Hospital to Test Fitness for Retrial

After days of legal deadlock, former head of state Efrain Rios Montt has been transferred to a psychiatric hospital for an evaluation of his fitness to be retried on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.  The transfer to a private hospital, Los Pinos, occurred immediately following a court hearing to settle the matter on Tuesday, August 4.

On July 23, the high-risk court overseeing the proceedings ordered Rios Montt’s transfer to national psychiatric hospital, Federico Mora, after his defense attorneys argued that he was senile. However, the transfer, scheduled for July 25, was suspended at the last minute by an appellate court order that allowed a habeas corpus motion presented by Rios Montt’s defense attorneys. The motion was subsequently rejected on July 28, but the transfer scheduled for July 29 was then suspended by an order from the fourth chamber of the appellate court. According to the appeals court chamber, the first instance court had to change its resolution and order the defendant’s transfer to another psychiatric center, as according to the judges, the national mental hospital’s conditions do not comply with minimum standards.

Yet the issue remained in dispute after the high-risk court confirmed that the only psychiatric hospital equipped to properly evaluate the former general was the Federico Mora facility. A hearing was scheduled for August 4 to settle the matter.

Before the hearing, Rios Montt’s defense attorneys filed a motion seeking the recusal of the president of the high-risk trial court, Judge Maria Castellanos. The defense argued that she was biased because she had completed law courses in Europe with international financial support. The court began yesterday’s hearing by rejecting the motion as being obviously frivolous, malicious, and discriminatory.

The hearing continued with Rios Montt’s counsel asking the court to order their client’s transfer to the military hospital. Prosecutors and civil parties to the case categorically opposed the proposal, instead suggesting that Rios Montt be transferred to the national general hospital, San Juan de Dios. According to the prosecution, Rios Montt’s admission to a military or private hospital would not guarantee that the psychiatric evaluation would be conducted with objectivity and transparency. The civil parties also argued that the transfer to such an institution would be contrary to the principle of equality and grant unjustified privilege to the defendant.

After deliberating, the court finally ordered Rios Montt’s transfer to private psychiatric hospital Los Pinos. Within hours of the hearing, Rios Montt was admitted to the psychiatric center there. He will remain at the hospital until August 17, undergoing periodic evaluation from a team of experts appointed by the court to determine whether he is fit to stand trial. Prosecutors and civil parties have expressed reservations that a hospital stay paid for by the defendant will provide the necessary conditions to conduct an independent, objective, and transparent evaluation. The results of medical evaluation will be discussed during the next hearing, scheduled for August 18.

Rios Montt, together with his then head of military intelligence, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, faces charges in relation to the deaths of thousands of Mayan Ixiles during the bloodiest period of Guatemala’s 36-year long civil war. On May 10, 2013, he was found guilty and sentenced to 80 years in prison, while his co-defendant was acquitted on all charges. Ten days later, a majority of the constitutional court overruled the verdict and ordered a new trial. For over two years, the start of a new trial has faced a series of legal delays.

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