Guatemala Grave Crimes Cases Delayed

While a Guatemalan court has found sufficient evidence to bring the CREOMPAZ case to trial, aspects of its decision have been challenged by plaintiffs. The proceedings are on stand-by until the appeals are decided. In the Molina Theissen case, the hearing to determine whether the case goes to trial has again been delayed; this time because the case will be transferred to the High Risk Tribunal system. The Maya Ixil genocide case also remains stalled as defense counsel for former chief of intelligence José Manuel Rodríguez Sánchez appeals the recent decision to separate the proceedings against him and co-defendant former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt.

These delays unfolded amidst a controversy that arose after President Jimmy Morales announced that the annual military parade would take place in public, rather than in the army barracks, as has been the practice for the past eight years.

Molina Theissen Case

As previously reported, on June 23, the Fifth Criminal Court was set to review the evidence presented by the Attorney General’s Office to determine whether there was sufficient grounds to bring the case to trial. However, the hearing was suspended because an appeal presented by the Public Ministry to have the case transferred to the High Risk Tribunal system was granted. It will now fall upon the High Risk Tribunal “C” to review the evidence and determine if the case goes to trial.

The four defendants, all retired military officers, were arrested on January 6 and remain in protective custody. They are accused of crimes against humanity, aggravated assault, the enforced disappearance of 14-year-old Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, and the sexual violence and torture of his sister, Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen. The defendants have appealed to have the ruling that resulted in their arrests revoked.

No date has been set yet for the case to be heard by the High Risk Tribunal “C,” which is presided over by Judge Víctor Hugo Herrera Ríos.


The CREOMPAZ case remains on stand-by. In June, High Risk Tribunal “A” found that there was sufficient evidence to bring formal charges against eight of the defendants in the case but dismissed charges against two others. The plaintiffs have filed two appeals.

Over 550 bodies have been exhumed from CREOMPAZ, the site of a former military base (Military Zone 21, MZ21), which was the center of military coordination and intelligence in Cobán, Alta Verapaz, during the height of Guatemala’s counterinsurgency war. More than 130 individuals have been positively identified by investigators.

The Attorney General’s Office appealed the decision dismissing charges against two defendants. The court rejected this appeal, but Hilda Pineda García, the public prosecutor in charge of the CREOMPAZ case, told IJ Monitor that her office plans to challenge this decision.

The second appeal was filed by the Coordinating Group of Victims of Alta Verapaz (CODEVI). They are challenging the court’s decision to exclude them as a civil party to the case. This action resulted in an immediate suspension of the case. Until a ruling is made, the CREOMPAZ case remains stalled.

Maya Ixil Genocide Case

On June 30, 2016, the Constitutional Court heard arguments by defense counsel for José Manuel Rodríguez Sánchez challenging an earlier decision by the First Court of Appeals that separates the genocide case into two distinct judicial processes. Former dictator and retired general José Efráin Ríos Montt will be tried under special provisions because he has been found to be mentally unfit to stand trial. The hearings will not be open to the public or the media, and if Ríos Montt is found guilty, no sentence will be handed down. Rodríguez Sánchez, who was chief of intelligence under Ríos Montt, will be tried in regular court, and the proceedings will be open to the public. If he is found guilty, he could face time in prison.

The first genocide trial, which took place in 2013 and resulted in the conviction of Ríos Montt and the acquittal of Rodríguez Sánchez, was partially nullified and the verdict vacated. Several attempts to start the retrial faltered, and last year the High Risk Tribunal “B” ruled that the special procedures should be applied to Ríos Montt due to his mental incapacity.

The civil parties argued that these special procedures could not be applied to Rodríguez Sánchez and sought to have the proceedings split into two different processes. Despite the appeals from the civil parties not to proceed, High Risk Tribunal “B” started proceedings on March 16. However, the ongoing retrial was brought to a halt after the First Court of Appeals granted an amparo filed by the civil parties on May 4. This suspension was upheld in early June. Although the civil parties lamented this further delay in the genocide retrial, in their view, the illegal format of the retrial would have inevitably led to its suspension.

In the June 30 hearing, Rodríguez Sánchez’s lawyers questioned the right of the civil parties to intervene in the hearing and challenged their appeal, claiming they are not directly affected. They also claimed that the decision to separate the proceedings retraumatizes the victims because they will have to testify in two different proceedings.

Civil party lawyers Edgar Perez of the Bufete Jurídico and Hector Reyes of the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) argued that the victims are willing to appear in two different trials to testify to the abuses they suffered. They remarked that it was improper to seek to reunify the two cases because Guatemalan law clearly establishes that special measures can only apply to individuals who meet the criteria. They contended that Ríos Montt, by virtue of his mental incapacity, meets the criteria for a special, closed-door trial, but Rodríguez Sánchez does not.

Ríos Montt’s lawyers expressed their support of the decision to separate the proceedings, and the American Bar Association (ABA) also presented a friend of the court brief in support of the civil parties’ position.

There is no specified timeline by which the Constitutional Court must emit its decision in this matter. In the meantime, the Maya Ixil victims continue to wait for a new opportunity to see justice done.

Memory, H.I.J.O.S., and a Military Parade

Since 1999, H.I.J.O.S., a civil society organization representing the children of people who were forcibly disappeared by government forces, has organized a Memory March on June 30. They also organize a series of commemorative acts in the days leading up to the June 30 march.

H.I.J.O.S. has been harshly attacked recently on social media and other outlets by some pro-military sectors. Aside from its activism, from organizing commemorative events to street art about the disappeared, some members of H.I.J.O.S. are civil parties to some of the grave crimes cases under investigation in Guatemala. As a result of a complaint to Facebook about a drawing on the H.I.J.O.S. Facebook page showing a young boy urinating inside a military helmet, the H.I.J.O.S. Facebook page was briefly shut down.

President Jimmy Morales announced that there would be a public parade of the armed forces on July 3, Army Day, just a few days after the H.I.J.O.S. march. This was met with alarm on the part of human rights observers, who viewed it as a demonstration of government complicity with old guard military sectors. (The party that brought Morales to victory, the National Convergence Front (FCN), was founded by retired military officers involved in counterinsurgency operations in the 1970s and 1980s.) Since 2008, after protests organized by H.I.J.O.S. challenged this public display of the armed forces as an affront to the victims of the internal armed conflict, military parades have been held inside the Mariscal Zavala military base.

President Morales’ announcement caused a great deal of controversy. He eventually backtracked, and the military parade was held in Mariscal Zavala as it has been for the past eight years.

Jo-Marie Burt is an associate professor of political science and director of Latin American Studies at George Mason University. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Paulo Estrada contributed to the research and writing of this report.