International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Guatemala genocide trial, in final stages, still faces critical obstacles and complex political climate

Although the trial of former de facto head of state Efrain Rios Montt and his then chief of military intelligence, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, resumed on Tuesday April 30 after nearly two weeks of suspension, its fate is far from clear. On April 19, the trial was suspended amid legal challenges only moments from closing arguments.

With only a reported six defense witnesses remaining, and an expected four hours of closing arguments, it is possible that the trial could conclude this week. However, as has been the case for the last thirteen years, and especially the last 13 days, serious legal and political obstacles could stall or derail the trial, even at this late stage in the process.

Guatemala, like much of the … Continue Reading

Guatemalan Genocide Trial Back on Track?

Statement from the Washington Office on Latin America on trial developments:

Recent developments in the trial of General Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez—including last week’s ruling by Judge Carol Patricia Flores to annul all previous proceedings and the Guatemalan Constitutional Court’s ruling earlier this week that the case must be transferred from the presiding judge, Judge Jazmín Barrios, to Judge Flores— have created a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the trial and have raised questions about Guatemala’s commitment to the rule of law, as well as the justice system’s ability to take on such a case (for more information, see WOLA’s April 24 statement). However, in an encouraging move, yesterday the Constitutional Court issued a ruling that compels Judge Flores … Continue Reading

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ICTJ Legal Experts Discuss State of Trial

Susan Kemp, prosecutions consultant for the Intenational Center for Transitional Justice and Marcie Merksy, Director of ICTJ’s Program Office are interviewed in a podcast that has been released today.

Informed by extensive work in both criminal justice and Guatemala, they offer an analysis of the dramatic events of the past week, discuss the legal and political complexities of the case, and consider possible scenarios that could develop in the coming days and weeks.

Click on this link to ICTJ’s website:

Adama Dieng, UN Special Advisor on Prevention of Genocide, Calls for Rios Montt Trial to be Completed

Statement of the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, on the judicial process against the former Head of State and former Chief of Intelligence of Guatemala

(New York, 23 April 2013) The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, urges the judicial authorities involved in the trial of former Head of State Jose Efrain Rios Montt and former Chief of Intelligence Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez to conclude the case and bring accountability for the atrocity crimes committed during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala, which lasted from 1960 to 1996.

Jose Efrain Rios Montt and Jose Mauricio Rodriguez face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in relation to human rights violations … Continue Reading

Rights Groups Urge Completion of Guatemala Genocide Trial

Four international legal and human rights groups are together urging all concerned to ensure that the current trial in Guatemala of former president Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity proceeds with due respect for judicial independence.

The four are: the Open Society Justice Initiative, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

The trial of Ríos Montt, a former general who ruled Guatemala from 1982-3, opened in Guatemala City on March 19. Together with Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, his former head of military intelligence, Rios Montt faces charges of genocide and other crimes arising from atrocities against members of the country’s Mayan Ixil … Continue Reading

Strong Statements of Concern, including from the President, Polarize Guatemalan Public Opinion in the Final Days of Rios Montt Genocide Trial

The historic trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity of Efrain Ríos Montt, the former general who ruled Guatemala from 1982-3, has been ongoing since March 19. After nearly five weeks, the trial is expected to come to a close later this week.

However, in recent days there has been very strong pressure in opposition to the trial from prominent voices in Guatemala, and assertions that the trial is inconsistent with peace in the country—indeed that the trial is “betraying the peace and dividing Guatemala.” This statement was formally endorsed on Tuesday by Guatemala’s President Otto Perez Molina.

Ríos Montt, and his former director of military intelligence, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, face charges arising from military operations largely targeting Guatemala’s Mayan … Continue Reading

Elisabeth Patterson: The Rios Montt Trial – Have Efforts Been Made to Integrate the Mayan Perspective?

Elisabeth Patterson went to Guatemala as a volunteer with Lawyers without Borders Canada. She practices law at Dionne Schulze in Montreal, Canada, where she advises indigenous governments and organizations on international, Aboriginal, commercial and intellectual property law.

I monitored in Guatemala City in late March the first four days of the trial of former generals Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez with several lawyers from Lawyers without Borders Canada (LWBC). As I work mainly with indigenous communities in Canada, LWBC asked me to observe the trial from the perspective of the integration of the indigenous dimension into the trial process. Considering that all the lay witnesses in the case are Mayan, certain adjustments to the regular legal process were clearly unavoidable. … Continue Reading


Aryeh Neier Hails Role of Truth Commission in Guatemala's Struggle for Justice

Aryeh Neier, the veteran human rights campaigner, has highighted the vital role played by Guatemala’s post-civil war truth commission in bringing about the current trial on genocide charges of former president Rios Montt.

Writing in on the blog of the New York Review of Books, Neier describes the 1999 publication of the nine volume report of the commission as a “crucial turning point” in the struggle to hold Rios Montt accountable.

The report was produced by the Historical Clarification Commission, known by its Spanish acronym CEH (Comisión para el Esclarecimíento Histórico). The CEH was created in 1997 following a UN-brokered agreement in Oslo, Norway that ended thirty-six years of armed conflict between the Guatemalan government and guerrilla forces.

Neier, who stepped down as president of … Continue Reading

Almudena Bernabeu: The 13-year struggle to bring Rios Montt to court

Almudena Bernabeu is head of the transitional justice program at the Center for Justice and Accountability. An international lawyer, she joined the effort to prosecute former general Rios Montt in 2004, five years after a complaint of genocide was first filed against him before the courts in Spain. She wrote this commentary, originally in Spanish, to mark the opening of the trial on March 19;

Today may be, finally, the day that the former general, dictator and president of Guatemala, Efrain Rios Montt, is tried for genocide in Guatemala. Today, after more than 13 years,  is the day that all the investigative and legal efforts led by the victims and carried out by lawyers in Guatemala, Spain, and again in Guatemala converge in a court, with a demand … Continue Reading


Luis Moreno Ocampo: the Meaning of the Rios Montt Trial

Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, made the following remarks today as the trial of former generals Efrain Rios Montt and Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez began in Guatemala City:

The judges, public prosecutors, and defense attorneys of Guatemala have an enormous responsibility to guarantee a fair trial: fair for the victims and fair for the accused. A fair trial is a necessary condition of, but not alone sufficient for a successful experience: the impact of the trial on Guatemala and on the world will depend on the actions of others. Journalists, politicians, movie directors, writers, and concerned citizens are the ones who can make this trial a turning point in history.

The trial can help us understand the … Continue Reading

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