International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

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 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

Naomi Roht-Arriaza & Susan Kemp: The Rios Montt judgment in light of international law

Although it is unclear whether the trial of Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez will be resumed, it is worth evaluating the only document that specifically examines the question of guilt or innocence of the accused: the judgment of May 10, which in the eyes of world will probably end up being the final pronouncement on the case. That judgment has already started to circulate around the world, creating a legal precedent and contributing to the work of other national and international courts on the issue.

For example, the judgment emphasizes sexual violence against women and girls, noting that not only does such crime include acts that cause physical and mental damage but also that it demonstrates an intent to … Continue Reading

Jo-Marie Burt and Geoff Thale, The Guatemala Genocide Case: Using the Legal System to Defeat Justice

With Ríos Montt Trial Partially Annulled, Justice and Rule of Law Hang in the Balance

This article was first published on June 5, 2013 on the website of the Washington Office on Latin America.

On May 10, 2013, after 30 years of state-sanctioned impunity, the victims of army violence in Guatemala’s 36-year civil war saw a glimpse of relief when former de facto president General Jose Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Judge Jazmín Barrios, who presided over the case, revoked Ríos Montt’s house arrest and ordered him immediately to prison to serve out his 80-year sentence.

But impunity has a way of fighting back in Guatemala. Just ten days after the historic ruling, Guatemala’s Constitutional … Continue Reading


Ashley Miller and Ted Piccone, Brookings Institution: Ríos Montt Trial an Example of National, International Courts Working Together

This piece was contributed by Ashley Miller, research assistant, and Ted Piccone, senior fellow in Foreign Policy Studies, at the Brookings Institution.

The recent conclusion of the genocide trial against the former de facto leader of Guatemala, General José Efraín Ríos Montt, and the subsequent overturning of his conviction raises significant and enormously challenging questions about rule of law and politicization of the justice system in Guatemala. But beyond the domestic implications, the proceedings may renew the bitter debate underway about the wider Inter-American human rights system at this week’s Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly meeting, aptly held in La Antigua, Guatemala.

The trial of Ríos Montt, de facto president from 1982-1983, represents the first time a national judiciary has … Continue Reading

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UN Experts' Statement on Guatemala: “Justice, the best guarantee to prevent the recurrence of atrocities”

GENEVA (15 May 2013) – A group of United Nations experts said today that the establishment of truth and justice in Guatemala, as well as being fundamental elements for reparation for the victims, are essential to ensure the non-recurrence of the heinous crimes that characterized the civil war in the country, including enforced disappearance, arbitrary executions, rape and forced displacement of people.

“Justice is the best guarantee to prevent the recurrence of these crimes,” stressed the UN experts after last Friday’s court ruling that sentenced the former head of State José Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity.

For the experts, this decision not only addresses the State’s international obligations, but also represents a profoundly significant milestone in the long … Continue Reading

International Groups Welcome Progress in Guatemalan Genocide Trial but Criticize Delaying Tactics

May 9, 2013 – Nine international human rights and legal groups have welcomed the resumption of the Guatemalan trial of Efraín Ríos Montt, the former military dictator, for genocide and crimes against humanity. The trial has taken another step towards its conclusion with the hearing of final arguments from the prosecution and victims’ representatives today and yesterday.

The trial of Ríos Montt, a former general who ruled Guatemala from 1982 to 1983, opened in Guatemala City on March 19, 2013. Together with Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, his former head of military intelligence, Rios Montt faces charges arising from atrocities against members of the country’s Mayan Ixil population.

“The Ríos Montt trial is being closely watched by advocates of international justice as a model of … Continue Reading

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