While a court has rejected efforts to dismiss charges against former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt in relation to the 1982 Dos Erres massacre, it has yet to determine whether the case will be heard using the special procedures outlined in Guatemalan law for individuals like Ríos Montt, who suffer mental incompetence, as solicited by the Attorney General’s Office. The court was scheduled to make this determination in a hearing yesterday but failed to do so.
Judge Claudette Domínguez of High Risk Court A is overseeing the Dos Erres case, which was reactivated when Santos López Alonzo, a former Kaibil accused of direct participation in the massacre, was deported from the United States in August 2016. Last November, Ríos Montt’s lawyers sought unsuccessfully to have the charges against Ríos Montt in relation to this case, which were brought years earlier, dropped.
Judge Domínguez determined that she would not rule on the plaintiff’s motion at this time because after reviewing the case file, she realized that there were a number of other motions from previous years, dating back to 2012, which had not yet been resolved.
Edgar Pérez, a human rights lawyer representing the victims in the case, challenged the judge’s ruling in court yesterday. He argued that the motions the judge is referring to were filed during an earlier phase of the proceedings and cannot be revisited because the case is now in the intermediate phase. As a result, he filed a motion of defective procedural activity against the judge’s decision.
The judge asked Pérez if he was renouncing the petitions previously filed on behalf of the victims. Pérez responded that in his view, the law establishes that motions presented in the preliminary phase cannot be reviewed now that the proceedings are in the intermediate phase. He said, nevertheless, that he would renounce all petitions so that the proceedings can move forward.
Judge Domínguez rejected Pérez’s motion, stating that she was required to guarantee due process. She also said that she is required to review all the motions filed in the case. In the meantime, Ríos Montt’s defense attorneys requested a copy of the entire case file and, saying they needed additional time to review its contents, called for a suspension of the hearing.
The judge granted the defense request and suspended the hearing. A new hearing was scheduled for March 31, 2017. At that time Judge Domínguez said she would review all pending motions and rule on the Attorney General’s Office’s request to apply the special security measures to Ríos Montt in this case.
In response to the suspension, José González Sierra, a lawyer representing the Guatemalan Association of Disappeared Persons (FAMDEGUA), which is a civil party to the case, noted, “The Inter-American Court for Human Rights has established that judges must be guarantors of due process, but they must also guarantee access to justice and avoid undue delays in the proceedings by appealing to formal procedures that in the end favor impunity. Considering Ríos Montt’s ill health, such appeals may be designed to further delay the proceedings so that they never reach trial stage.”
Ríos Montt is 90 years old, and his family reports that his health is extremely delicate.
Jo-Marie Burt is an associate professor of political science and Latin American Studies at George Mason University. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). She is an expert on human rights, transitional justice, and war crimes prosecutions in Latin America. This report was prepared with the assistance of Paulo Estrada, human rights activist, archaeology student at San Carlos University, and civil party in the Military Diary case.