International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

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

One Month After Guatemala’s Constitutional Court Intervenes to Challenge Rios Montt Genocide Conviction: Amnesty Back on the Table, New Trial Court Booked Till Mid-2014, and Rios Montt Back Home

On May 20, almost one month ago, the news that Guatemala’s highest court partially annulled the judgment and trial in the case of Efrain Rios Montt, essentially on a technicality, shook Guatemala and the international community. The Constitutional Court issued its resolution only three days after the trial court had issued its extensively detailed judgment laying the basis for the genocide and crimes against humanity conviction of the former dictator who ruled Guatemala during the bloodiest period of the country’s 36-year armed conflict. This was the first conviction of a former head of state for genocide in a domestic court, but followed a line of cases prosecuting military leaders, particularly in Latin America, for crimes committed during some of the … 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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Statement: Legal Stalemate over Guatemala's Rios Montt Genocide Trial Threatens Victims' Rights

The Open Society Justice Initiative is deeply concerned about the continuing legal stalemate in Guatemala over the prosecution of the country’s former military leader, José Efrain Rios Montt, for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Following the 3-2 decision of Guatemala’s Constitutional Court on May 20 to overturn a guilty verdict in the case, and to order the resumption of the trial at its midpoint, the Justice Initiative is calling on all concerned to complete the process expeditiously. The Justice Initiative called on Guatemala to ensure accountability for grave crimes and the protection of the rights of the victims.

“Guatemala has shown that local justice—with courageous and independent judges—can hold even senior leaders accountable for grave crimes,” said James Goldston, executive director of … Continue Reading

One Week After Overturning Former Dictator’s Genocide Conviction, Guatemalan Constitutional Court Considers Whether Rios Montt Should Benefit from 1986 Amnesty

In a tense political climate, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court last week overturned the historic conviction of former Guatemalan strongman Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala for 17 months in what Guatemala’s truth commission recognized as the most brutal period of Guatemala’s 36-year internal armed conflict.

Now the Constitutional Court has resuscitated long-dormant defense claims that a historic amnesty prevents any prosecution of Rios Montt or his co-accused, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez.

Constitutional Court Ruling Creates a Legal “Labyrinth”

On May 10, a Guatemalan trial court convicted Rios Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity for killings, forced displacement, rapes and torture committed under his rule. The trial court acquitted Rodriguez Sanchez, Rios Montt’s head of military intelligence, on the same day. One … Continue Reading

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Uncertainty Hovers Over Next Stages in Historic Guatemala Genocide Case After Constitutional Court Overturns Conviction

One week after the Constitutional Court overturned the then days-old conviction of Guatemala’s former de facto president Efrain Rios Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity, the status and future prospects of this historic case remain uncertain. This was the first conviction of a head of state for genocide in a domestic court, with prosecutors, survivors and human rights organizations seeking to hold Rios Montt accountable for abuses committed during the most brutal period of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, including the killing of 1,771 Maya Ixiles.

Historic Verdict and Judgment Issued – and Overturned in Contentious Constitutional Court Decision

On Friday, May 10, the six-week trial concluded, following the testimony of over 90 witnesses as well as experts in various fields, … Continue Reading

Guatemala's Constitutional Court Overturns Rios Montt Conviction and Sends Trial Back to April 19

Only ten days after a trial court issued its historic verdict convicting Efrain Rios Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity, and sentencing him to prison for 80 years, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, in a 3-2 ruling, overturned the verdict and set the trial back to where it was April 19. This verdict had been the first genocide conviction of a former head of state in a domestic, rather than international, court.

Rios Montt was convicted for crimes committed against Guatemala’s Maya Ixil indigenous population during his 17-month de facto rule in 1982 and 1983 following a military coup. On Friday, May 17, the trial court (Tribunal Primero de Sentencia Penal, Narcoactividad y Delitos contra el Ambiente de Mayor Riesgo “A”) released … Continue Reading


718 page Rios Montt judgement released: all eyes on Constitutional Court

Little fanfare accompanied the trial court’s release of its 718 page full reasoned judgment on May 17, 2013, one week after the court convicted former de facto head of state Ríos Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to 80 years in prison. The trial court simply notified the parties to pick up a copy of the sentence at 3pm, when the doors to the courthouse were already closed to the public.

The release of the judgment also starts the 10-day window for the defense counsel to appeal the guilty verdict, which lawyers for Ríos Montt have pledged to do if the Constitutional Court does not overturn the verdict first.

After the guilty verdict was issued Friday, May 10, the Constitutional Court has said that it has … Continue Reading


Constitutional Court apparently divided on whether Rios Montt's conviction for genocide should stand

Less than one week after the trial court’s conviction of former de facto head of state Efrain Rios Montt, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court has been reviewing challenges to the trial—challenges which the Court’s General Secretary has asserted could lead to an annulment of the trial or the dismissal of some or all of the three trial court judges. Now the Constitutional Court announced that it would not issue decisions until it reconvenes for a special session at 10 am on Monday morning.

A Guatemalan newspaper reported on Friday morning that the Constitutional Court’s delays are a result of internal division within the Court—but that three of five judges are at this stage inclined to annul the verdict and the final days of … Continue Reading