International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

The Guatemala Genocide Trial Resumes

The criminal trial against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and his former intelligence chief Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez resumed on October 13. As previously reported by International Justice Monitor, High Risk Court “B,” composed of presiding judge María Eugenia Castellanos Cruz and judges Sara Gricelda Yoc Yoc and Jaime Delmar González Marín, has separated the trial into two distinct proceedings.

Guatemalan law has special provisions for individuals who, like the retired general, were mentally competent at the time of the alleged crimes but currently lack the mental capacity to face a trial. Thus, the court heard the case against Ríos Montt, who was not present and was represented only by his lawyers, behind closed doors. The same tribunal heard the case against … Continue Reading

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Eighteen Months After Initial Conviction, Historic Guatemalan Genocide Trial Reopens but is Ultimately Suspended

On Monday, January 5, a small Guatemala City courtroom was packed to the brim for the anticipated retrial of former head of State Efrain Rios Montt and his then head of military intelligence, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez. Both are charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for massacres committed in 1982 and 1983 when General Rios Montt ruled with an iron fist.

Prosecutors allege that Rios Montt was responsible for the killing of 1,771 indigenous Mayans, the displacement of 29,000, and the rape and torture of others during 15 massacres. Nearly half of all reported violations during the bloody 36-year war occurred in 1982, the year in which Rios Montt came to power. In the Ixil region, between 70 and 90 percent … Continue Reading


Guatemalan Court Ruling on Attorney General’s Term Undermines Rule of Law

NEW YORK—A ruling by Guatemala’s constitutional court that cuts short the term of the country’s attorney general jeopardizes the country’s decades-long transition to constitutional democracy, the Open Society Justice Initiative said today.

Claudia Paz y Paz was appointed attorney general in December 2010 for a full period of four years, but the court’s decision calls for her term to end this May. Guatemala’s constitution (Article 251) states that the attorney general’s term will last for four years and that she can only be removed from office by the president for “duly established cause.”

The constitutional court decision relied on 20-year-old transitional provisions of the country’s constitution, and was issued following a challenge lodged by a Guatemalan businessman. In its brief decision, the … Continue Reading


Guatemala’s Constitutional Court Calls for Pioneering Attorney General to Step Down Early

In Guatemala yesterday, the Constitutional Court ruled that the country’s top lawyer must step down earlier than planned. Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz is a champion reformer, and has been a bright light in the violence-plagued country notorious for impunity.

The question about the date at which Paz y Paz’ term appropriately ends has been contentious in Guatemala. She has made notable reforms, strengthening the Public Ministry to enhance successful prosecutions, including for violent crime, narco-trafficking, corruption and human rights violations. In doing so, she has also created enemies, even more so after the prosecutor’s short-lived success in convicting former military head of state José Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity last year.

The Constitutional Court’s decision shifts … Continue Reading

Guatemala Justice Update, January 2014

When trial judges in Guatemala convicted their own former head of state, Efrain Rios Montt, of genocide last May—a worldwide first—the rule of law set down roots in a country renowned for impunity.  Subsequent events have shown how fragile those roots are.

Only days after the dictator’s conviction for his role in massacres of the indigenous Ixil during the country’s internal armed conflict, the Constitutional Court, in a divided and controversial judgment, annulled the ruling, forcing the disqualification of the trial court and upending the judicial process. Adding further confusion, in an October ruling, the Constitutional Court did not foreclose the possibility that a decades-old amnesty law could prevent the prosecution altogether, despite clear domestic and international prohibitions against the application … Continue Reading

Summary of trial and excerpts of judgment available

The Open Society Justice Initiative has just published a summary of the six week trial of Efrain Rios Montt based on the daily monitoring reports from this website.

The 56-page book, Judging a Dictator: The Trial of Guatemala’s Rios Montt, also includes an English translation of excerpts from the 718-page judgment against Rios Montt (specifically Section III of the judgment, covering the facts regarded by the court as proven (pages 103-45) and Section V, covering the charges proven against Rios Montt (pages 682-703).

Also available on the Open Society site is a fuller English translation of key sections of the judgment, and a translated text of the constitutional court ruling that led to the cancellation of the guilty verdict against Rios Montt, … Continue Reading

Guatemala Faces Human Rights Complaint over Rios Montt Trial Debacle

Tiburcio Utuy was tortured at the hands of the Guatemalan military in early 1983, under the military dictatorship of Efrain Rios Montt. Three decades later, Tiburcio was among those who successfully brought about the prosecution of Rios Montt for genocide and other crimes in a Guatemalan court—a trial which ended in April with a guilty verdict being overturned by a legally questionable ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court.

Now Tiburcio is speaking out about his experiences once more, as Guatemalan civil society groups challenge the overturning of the Rios Montt verdict, in a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington D.C.

The Guatemalan military committed three massacres in Tiburcio’s community in early 1983, forcing him to flee to the … Continue Reading

Judging Rios Montt in the Face of Obstacles – Interview with Judge Yassmin Barrios

(This interview was conducted by Blanche Petrich of La Jornada.)

In a middle-class neighborhood of Guatemala City, the nation’s capital, three National Police patrol officers are stationed permanently in front of a black metal entryway. They guard a judge, Yassmín Barrios, who this past May 10 was called on to issue the following ruling, after sounding the proverbial gavel in a courtroom:

“That the defendant José Efrain Ríos Montt is responsible as the perpetrator of crimes against humanity and genocide, committed against the life and safety of civilian residents of the villages and hamlets located in Santa María Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal, and San Gaspar Chajul. For this crime he should be sentenced to 30 years in prison without parole.”

Despite the security … Continue Reading

Interview with Juan Francisco Soto, Director of CALDH

This interview first appeared on 25 July in Plaza Pública. The original is available at

Twelve years went by before the querella lodged by the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) against the military high command finally got to court. It took two months for a judgment to be issued. And in just ten days, the conviction was annulled.

Juan Francisco Soto is the director of CALDH, one of the two associations that joined the genocide trial of Efraín Ríos Montt y José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez as querellantes. Two months after the case, Soto recounts the key moments in the trial, evaluates the situation and talks about the most heated controversies raised by the trial.

What is the current mood … Continue Reading

Ixil genocide trial on hold, other charges against Rios Montt continue

With the events of recent weeks – the May 20 Constitutional Court decision to undo the guilty verdict in the Rios Montt trial and the new trial court’s expressed unavailability until April 2014 – it seems that continued legal proceedings against Rios Montt in the Ixil genocide trial will be in the best of scenarios on hold. However, there have been further developments in connection with another set of charges against former Guatemalan de facto president Efraín Rios Montt.

Yesterday, June 24, Judge Carol Patricia Flores ruled on a request for her disqualification as a pre-trial judge in the case of the massacre at Dos Erres. The civil party FAMDEGUA (Association of the Families of the Disappeared of Guatemala) sought her … Continue Reading