Efrain Rios Montt & Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez
before the National Courts of Guatemala
The 2013 crimes against humanity and genocide trial against former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt and his chief of military intelligence officer led to a historic conviction, which was later overturned on a technicality.
In 2013, Jose Efrain Rios Montt (now deceased), who ruled Guatemala for nearly seventeen months during 1982 and 1983, and his then chief of military intelligence, faced trial in Guatemala City for genocide and crimes against humanity. The charges arose from systematic massacres of the country’s indigenous population carried out by Guatemalan troops and paramilitary forces during this phase of the country’s long and brutal civil war, and the related mass forced displacement.
This was the first time a former head of state had been prosecuted for genocide in a national, as opposed to an international, court. The trial was an important milestone in holding political and military leaders accountable for international crimes. For Guatemalans, it contributed to an accurate historical account of the gross human rights violations committed during the civil war, in a process that helped to reinforce the country’s young democracy.
A United Nations sponsored truth commission established under the peace agreement that ended the civil war in 1996 estimated that more than 200,000 died or were subjected to forced disappearance during the 36-year conflict, over 80 percent from Mayan indigenous populations. The commission found that state security personnel and paramilitaries were responsible for 93 percent of the violations. The commission identified over 600 massacres, and found that the state was responsible for systematic violence – including extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, sexual violence, death squads, the denial of justice, and other crimes and violations, with the victims largely from indigenous and rural communities. The three-year period between 1981 and 1983 accounts for 81 percent of the violations reported by the truth commission related to the 36 year conflict—with nearly half (48 percent) of all reported violations occurring during 1982.
The commission specifically found that the state was responsible for acts of genocide in four designated regions between 1981 and 1983. The commission stated that the Army identified Mayans as an “internal enemy” as a base of guerrilla support and committed massacres with the objective of killing the greatest number of people possible, with strategic planning and in response to state policy. In the Ixil region, between 70 and 90 percent of the communities were wiped out during this period.
Until recently, no one had been held accountable for these crimes. In 2009, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights noted that Guatemala’s impunity index for current and past crimes was 98 percent. It identified the impunity for the crimes against humanity connected to the internal armed conflict as near-total. Investigations and prosecutions either never started, or remained perpetually stalled. Even when warrants were issued for the arrest of alleged perpetrators, they were never executed.
In recent years, however, significant steps have been taken towards prosecutions for the gravest crimes, which began under the leadership of Claudia Paz y Paz, Guatemala’s former Attorney General. Significant reforms were undertaken during her term, including the creation of specialized courts and the designation of judges focused on “high-risk” cases (including El Tribunal de sentencia de Mayor Riesgo A where this trial took place). Before 2013, prosecutions were limited, with the majority targeting low-level soldiers or paramilitaries, rather than their commanders. This trial marked a significant turning point.
The Center for Human Rights Legal Action (Centro Para la Accion Legal en Derechos Humanos, or CALDH), a leading Guatemalan NGO, and human rights lawyer Edgar Pérez, of the Bufete Juridico de Derechos Humanos en Guatemala, representing the Association of Justice and Reconciliation (Asociación Para Justícia y Reconciliación, or AJR), initiated a complaint with the Public Ministry in 2001 seeking the investigation and prosecution of the commanders responsible for the violations committed in 1982 and 1983, the most brutal years of Guatemala’s civil war. Various groups brought a similar case in the Spanish National Court in late 1999 charging eight high-ranking officials with international crimes—torture, genocide, illegal detention and state-sponsored terrorism. (A 1985 Spanish law allows prosecution for certain crimes, including genocide.)
The domestic prosecution charged Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez with genocide and crimes against humanity. Former head of state Rios Montt was included as a defendant on January 26, 2012 after losing his immunity as a member of Congress in 2012.
The first genocide charge against Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez was in relation to 15 massacres against the Ixil population living in the Quiche region during his rule as head of state between March 1982 and August 1983. These charges alleged that Rios Montt was the intellectual author of 1,771 deaths, the forced displacement of 29,000 people, sexual violence against at least 8 women, and torture of at least 14 people. They alleged that Rodriguez Sanchez implemented military plans responsible for the killing of civilians in the Ixil Triangle of Nebaj, Chajul and San Juan Cotzal, in Quiche.
In a second genocide charge, introduced in May 2012, Rios Montt was charged in relation to the deaths of 201 people in Dos Erres (Peten) in December 1982.
The trial, which opened on March 19, 2013, related only to the first set of charges—the killings, forcible displacement, sexual violations and torture of the Ixil population in the Quiche region. The Dos Erres charges will be heard separately; no date has been set yet.
Rios Montt asserted his innocence throughout the process. Among the defense arguments were that Rios Montt did not have command responsibility over the officers directly responsible for the violations, or did not directly order or participate in the alleged acts. He also asserted that a 1986 amnesty law, introduced by then President Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores, prohibits the prosecution. An appeal (amparo) concerning the amnesty law was rejected as baseless by the Constitutional Court in March 2013.
Related charges have been brought against former generals Mejia Victores (Rios Montt’s successor as president and his former defense minister) and Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, Army Chief of Staff under Rios Montt. Both were captured in 2011, but the charges against them have been suspended on account of their state of health.
On April 2, 2018, while facing a retrial on the original genocide charges, Rios Montt passed away. He was 91 years old.
Court and Legal Documents
Other Domestic International Crimes Prosecutions
The Public Ministry has succeeded in bringing other prosecutions related to the internal armed conflict, though most have been against low-level officials. In the past five years, the Public Ministry in Guatemala has achieved historic convictions for forced disappearances. In addition, various (at least 28) soldiers have been convicted for their involvement in murders or massacres during the civil war. At least 18 of these have been convicted of crimes against humanity in addition to various counts of murder.
Some more senior security officials have been convicted, though their numbers are limited. In December 2009, Guatemalan courts convicted Colonel Marco Antonio Sanchez Samayoa for the enforced disappearance of eight family members in the El Jute massacre of October 1981, and on August 22, 2012 a Guatemalan court convicted former Police Chief Pedro Garcia Arredondo of forced disappearance and crimes against humanity (torture). Other related cases are ongoing or pending.
The Spanish Case
A case introduced in the Spanish National Court in December 1999 by a group of Guatemalans, led by Mayan activist Rigoberta Menchu, charges eight high-ranking officials, including Rios Montt, with international crimes—torture, genocide, illegal detention and state-sponsored terrorism. A 1985 Spanish law allows prosecution for certain listed crimes (including genocide, terrorism, piracy) and “any other [criminal act] which, according to international covenants and treaties, should be prosecuted in Spain.” The US-based Center for Justice and Accountability has been lead counsel since 2006.
In 2006, a Judge of the Spanish National Court issued arrest warrants, including a warrant for the arrest of Rios Montt, and an order to freeze assets. The Guatemalan Constitutional Court initially accepted the warrants and arrested two defendants (Guevara Rodriguez and Garcia Arredondo). However, in December 2007, the Constitutional Court declared the warrants invalid, refused to order extradition and instead ordered the release of the two detained defendants.
In 2008 and 2009, the Spanish National Court heard the testimony of victims and experts. In April 2011, the Spanish National Court issued an arrest warrant and requested the extradition of Jorge Sosa Orantes, for his role in the massacre at Dos Erres. Canadian authorities arrested him because of a warrant issued in the United States in connection with immigration-related charges, and extradited him in 2012. He is due to go on trial in California on charges of naturalization fraud in August, 2013.
Significant Names and Events
Army Intelligence Section, or Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the National Defense (D-2 or G-2)
D-2 or G-2 was the Intelligence Unit of the Army.
Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (Comité de Asociaciones Comerciales Industriales y Financieras, or CACIF)
CACIF is a coalition of Guatemalan business interests.
Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (Fundación de Antropología Forense de Guatemala, or FAFG)
FAFG is a non-governmental forensic non-profit organization based in Guatemala which works in coordination with the Public Ministry to conduct exhumations, provide expert testimony and perform scientific investigations.
Guerrilla Army of the Poor (Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres, or EGP)
The EGP was a left-wing guerrilla organization which joined with ORPA, PGT and FAR in 1982 to form the URNG.
“High-risk” or “High-impact” Courts (Tribunales de “alto riesgo” o “alto impacto”)
“High-risk” or “high-impact” courts are specialized courts overseen by “high-risk” or “high-impact” judges to handle more complicated or sensitive cases.
Historical Archive of the National Police (Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional, or AHPN)
The Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive is the largest of its kind in Latin America. It holds approximately 80 million pages of records from over 100 years. The mandate of the AHPN is to preserve and make available publicly the records of the disbanded Guatemalan National Police. The AHPN was discovered by accident in 2005.
Historical Clarification Commission (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico, or CEH)
The CEH operated February 1997 to February 1999 pursuant to the June 1994 Agreement on the establishment of the Commission to clarify past human rights violations. The Commission was chaired by Christian Tomuschat, appointed by the United Nations Secretary General. It produced a final report, Guatemala: Memory of Silence.
The Ixil Triangle is the name given by the military to three communities in the northwest Guatemalan highlands, in the department of El Quiche. The communities are Santa Maria Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal, and San Gaspar Chajul. The population of these communities is predominantly Mayan Ixil, the population and the communities most severely affected by the internal armed conflict and the military’s counter-insurgency strategy and scorched earth campaign, particularly in the early 1980s.
The Kaibiles (or the Patrulla Especial Kaibil, or PEK) are an Army Special Forces Unit in Guatemala. It is an elite specially trained squad. During the internal armed conflict, the kaibiles were engaged in counter-insurgency operations.
National Security Doctrine
The National Security Doctrine describes the ideology of Latin American military regimes during the Cold War particularly focused on the internal threat of subversive activity and class war, with the support of the anti-communist U.S. government policy of the time. According to the UN truth commission report: “This definition of the population as a potential threat founded in the National Security Doctrine was the departure point for the annihilation of social organizations as well as the massacres and razing of hundreds of communities throughout the country.” Intrinsic to the National Security Doctrine was the notion of the “internal enemy” (“enemigo interno”).
PACs (Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil)
PACs were civilian militias conscripted from the rural civilian population under the de facto presidency of Rios Montt, beginning in 1981.
Presidential Security Department (“La Regional” or the “Archivo”)
“El Archivo” was the President’s Intelligence Unit.
Rebel Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Rebeldes, or FAR)
The FAR was a left-wing guerrilla organization which joined with ORPA, EGP and PGT in 1982 to form the URNG.
The REMHI Report is the report of the Recovery of Historical Memory Project (Proyecto Interdiocesano de Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica. Titled Nunca Más, or Never Again, the REMHI Report is the first of two truth commission reports related to the Guatemalan internal armed conflict. The report concludes that the military was responsible for 87% of the approximately 200,000 civilian deaths and disappearances. The report’s lead author, Bishop Juan José Gerardi, was beaten to death two days after the report’s release. Three army officers and one priest who served as an accomplice were eventually convicted for their roles in the murder.
Revolutionary National Unity of Guatemala (Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca, or URNG)
The URNG resulted from the 1982 coalition of four left-wing guerrilla groups – the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), the Revolutionary Organization of Armed People (ORPA), the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR), and the Guatemalan Party of Labour (PGT). The URNG participated in peace negotiations to end the internal armed conflict.
Revolutionary Organization of Armed People (Organización Revolucionaria del Pueblo en Armas, or ORPA)
The ORPA was a left-wing guerrilla organization which joined with EGP, PGT and FAR in 1982 to form the URNG.
Guatemalan Party of Labour (Partido Guatemalteco del Trabajo, or PGT)
The PGT was a left-wing guerrilla organization which joined with ORPA, EGP and FAR in 1982 to form the URNG.
Trial Monitoring Partners
The Open Society Justice Initiative is grateful for the significant contributions of the following partner organizations and experts. Their help in monitoring and reporting on every day of the trial made this website possible, and their continued support serves to expand awareness of ongoing accountability efforts in Guatemala.
Jose Efrain Rios Montt
Jose Efrain Rios Montt is a Guatemalan general who became de facto president in a coup d’etat on March 23, 1982. He ruled the country for just over sixteen months until he was overthrown in a subsequent coup d’état by his then Minister of Defense Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores on August 8, 1983. During his rule, Rios Montt installed a military regime, dissolved the congress, and suspended the constitution, replacing it with the Fundamental Statute of Guatemala (Estatuto Fundamental de Guatemala, Decree law 24-82).
Rios Montt repeatedly sought political power after the democratic transition. He founded the Guatemalan Republican Front (Frente Republicano Guatemalteco, or FRG) party in 1989, and unsuccessfully attempted to run for president twice, failing in 1990 on constitutional grounds and in 2003 for a lack of electoral support in a campaign marred by violent rioting. He was elected to congress in 1990, serving until 2004, including as president of congress from 2000 until 2004, and was then elected to serve from 2007 to 2012.
On January 26, 2012, twelve days after he lost immunity from prosecution as his congressional term ended, Rios Montt was indicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with his 1982-83 term as de facto head of state.
On April 1, 2018, Rios Montt died at the age of 91 while facing a retrial on charges of genocide. He had been the first former head of state to face genocide charges in a domestic court.
Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez
Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez served as Director of Military Intelligence (G-2) under Rios Montt. He faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for allegedly designing, supervising and executing counter-insurgency military plans, code-named Victoria 82, Sofia, Firmeza 83 and Ixil, against the Mayan indigenous population.
Rodriguez Sanchez was arrested in October 2011. He is also facing a retrial on charges of genocide, and his trial is ongoing.
From day six of the trial, and at earlier stages in the proceedings, Rios Montt was represented by Marco Antonio Cornejo Marroquin and Danilo Rodriguez. Both were among the four lawyers, along with Franciso Palomo and Luis Rosales Marroquin, who represented the defendant before the trial opened on March 19. But they were replaced on the opening morning, at the request of Rios Montt, by Francisco Garcia Gudiel.
Garcia Gudiel was Rios Montt’s attorney only for the first morning, when he was expelled at midday after a confrontation with the presiding judges. Cornejo returned to the defense on day two; Rodriguez on day five.
Defendant Rodriguez Sanchez is represented by Cesar Calederon, Moises Galindo and Francisco Palomo. Palomo previously represented both Rodriguez Sanchez and Rios Montt, but currently represents only the former.
All of the existing defense attorneys for Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez walked out of the trial court in protest on April 18, appearing only in other courts for related hearings. After a suspension of the trial, when the court reconvened, the attorneys did not return to the trial court to represent their clients and the defendants were represented by new counsel.
Following a legal challenge to Garcia Gudiel’s expulsion from the hearing, the Constitutional Court recognized the violation of Rios Montt’s rights and the trial court reinstated Garcia Gudiel as Rios Montt’s defense attorney when the trial court reconvened on April 30.
For his part, Rodriguez Sanchez was represented by Otto Ramirez following the resumption of the legal proceedings on April 30. Ramirez is an appointed public defender.
Yassmin Barrios, Pablo Xitumul, Patricia Bustamante
Judge Barrios is the chief judge presiding over this trial as part of a three-judge panel of the court, the First High-Risk Tribunal A (Tribunal Primero A de Mayor Riesgo), together with Judges Patricia Bustamante and Pablo Xitumul. Judge Barrios is the President of the Tribunal and has served in the past on high-profile trials related to the internal armed conflict, including: the prosecutions of former special forces members (kaibiles) in connection with their involvement in the Dos Erres massacre; and the 2001 trial of three military officers and one priest eventually convicted for their role in the murder of Bishop Joseph Gerardi, the lead author of the REMHI Report (see glossary). In 2001, during the course of the Gerardi trial, Judge Barrios was attacked and threatened repeatedly.
Miguel Angel Galvez and Carol Patricia Flores
Judges Galvez and Flores are first-instance judges (jueces contralores) of Guatemala’s High Risk Courts (Juez Primero de Primera Instancia Penal de Mayor Riesgo) who have overseen the preliminary phases of the prosecution of Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez.
Judge Flores, of the High Risk Court “A”, was initially assigned to the case. However, after the defense succeeded in securing an order for her recusal in November 2011, on grounds of partiality, the case was transferred to Judge Galvez, of the High Risk Court “B”.
In the late stages of the oral phase of the trial, Judge Flores notified the parties that a series of legal challenges resulted in her November 2011 recusal being declared invalid, and the case was transferred back to her for all matters under the jurisdiction of the judges of first instance.
In Guatemala, the individual judges who oversee the preliminary hearings (first instance judges) are distinct from the three-judge panel of judges who oversee the trial (sentencing court). There are only two High Risk Courts in Guatemala, “A” and “B”.
In addition to the courts of first instance, Guatemala has 10 courts of appeal, a 13-member Supreme Court of Justice (Corte Suprema de Justicia), and a five-member Constitutional Court (Corte de Constitucionalidad), which increases its number to seven in special cases (challenges to the constitutionality of acts of Supreme Court, Congress, President or Vice President).
Judges of the courts of appeal and Supreme Court serve four-year terms upon election by the National Congress. The National Congress can only elect judges from a shortlist provided by magistrates, the Guatemalan Bar Association, and law school deans. Judges of the Constitutional Court serve five-year terms, and each is elected or appointed by different entities (Supreme Court of Justice, Congress, President, Superior Council of Universidad San Carlos, and the Bar Association or Colegio de Abogados).
Orlando Lopez is the prosecuting attorney on this case, and also responsible for the division in the Public Ministry responsible for investigating and prosecuting human rights related crimes.
Centro para la Accion Legal en Derechos Humanos, CALDH (Center for Human Rights Legal Action)
CALDH is participating in this trial representing the Asocacion Justicia y Reconciliacion as a querellante adhesivo, or civil party complainant, in support of the prosecution. The organization was responsible for bringing the genocide case to the Public Ministry in 2001, after the initiation of efforts to prosecute Rios Montt and others in Spanish courts. CALDH works to promote human rights through litigation, advocacy, and community outreach, with an emphasis on historical truth and social change.
Asociacion Justicia y Reconciliación, AJR (Justice and Reconciliation Association)
AJR is an association of survivors of massacres committed during the armed conflict. AJR is participating in this trial as a querellante adhesivo in support of the prosecution. They are represented by CALDH and the Bufete Juridico de Derechos Humanos. They seek accountability for the serious crimes committed during the armed conflict. AJR was founded by 22 communities from 5 regions of Guatemala deeply affected by the violations committed during the internal armed conflict.
Bufete Juridico de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Law Office)
The Human Rights Law Office, directed by Edgar Perez, represents AJR. The Law Office, under the direction of Perez, worked with CALDH to bring the case against Rios Montt to the Public Ministry in 2001, and has worked alongside the Public Ministry and CALDH to develop the case, The Office has also been responsible for the prosecution of numerous other emblematic human rights related cases in Guatemala, related to historic and contemporary violations, and is representing the organization of survivors, FAMDEGUA, serving as a civil party in the case against Rios Montt related to the Dos Erres massacre.
Other Personalities and Institutions
President Otto Perez Molina
Otto Perez Molina is the current President of Guatemala, serving since January 14, 2012. He ran under the platform of the Patriotic Party (Partido Patriota).
Perez Molina has a long military career, having served in Nebaj during the dictatorship of Rios Montt, and later as Director of Operations (D-3), chief of the Special Forces (kaibil) training center, head of the Presidential General Staff, and in the early 1990s, head of the Intelligence Directorate. He also served as the representative of the Guatemalan military in the negotiations resulting in the 1996 Peace Accords.
Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz
Claudia Paz y Paz has served as the Attorney General of Guatemala since December 2010, and during that time she has received international acclaim for reforming the Public Ministry and advancing justice and accountability in the country. Significant reforms have been undertaken during her term, including the creation of specialized courts and the designation of judges focused on “high-risk” cases.
Secretary of Peace Antonio Arenales Forno
Antonio Arenales Forno has served as Secretary of Peace since December 2011 under President Pérez Molina. He is also the Chair of the Presidential Human Rights Commission (COPREDEH).
He expressed that he does not think that genocide ever occurred in Guatemala; the limited amnesty prohibits ongoing prosecutions; and that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights overstepped its auhtority to review human rights cases committed during the period before March 9, 1987, the date upon which Guatemala accepted the jurisdiction of the court.
National Reparations Program (Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento)
The PNR was founded in 2003, based on the recommendation of the Historical Clarification Commission, in order to provide reparations and recognition to victims of the armed conflict.
Presidential Human Rights Commission (Comisión Presidencial de Derechos Humanos)
COPREDEH is the executive branch entity in charge of protecting human rights in Guatemala. Among other mandates, it is responsible for protecting human rights defenders, promoting human rights in public policy, and encouraging and reporting on the country’s adherence to international human rights agreements.
Fredy Peccerelli and FAFG
A forensic anthropologist, Fredy Peccerelli is the director and one of the founding members of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation in Guatemala City (FAFG), a nongovernmental organization that exhumes mass graves of victims of Guatemala’s civil war. Peccerelli, along with members of his immediate family, has been the subject of repeated death threats as a result of his work. In addition to his ongoing work in Guatemala, Peccerelli has conducted exhumations of mass graves in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. He testified about this work at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on 13 March 2007.
Rigoberta Menchú Tum
Rigoberta Menchú Tum is an indigenous Guatemalan of the Quiché-Maya ethnic group. She is a leader internationally known for her work on the promotion and defense of human rights, peace and indigenous peoples’ rights. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, becoming the first indigenous and the youngest person ever to receive the award. Menchú Tum’s father, mother, and brother were all tortured and killed by the Guatemalan military. According to the UN-sponsored Commission on Historical Clarification over 200,000 people were killed or disappeared between 1960 and 1996 in Guatemala.
Helen Mack Chang
Helen Mack Chang is a Guatemalan businesswoman and human rights activist. She became an outspoken advocate for human fights after her sister, Myrna Mack, a social anthropologist who studied the problems of people displaced by the internal armed conflict in the country, was killed by the Guatemalan military on September 11, 1990. In 1993, Helen Mack founded and became the President of The Myrna Mack Foundation in Guatemala City. Helen Mack succeeded in obtaining the conviction of the soldier directly responsible for her sister’s murder and several years later, the conviction of one of the three officers accused of masterminding Myrna Mack’s murder. The Myrna Mack Foundation is a major partner in CJA’s Guatemala Genocide Case before the Spanish National Court.
November 13, 1960
At the start of the Guatemalan internal armed conflict, a failed revolt by left-wing military officers precedes the military government’s counter-insurgency campaigns.
March 23, 1982
General José Efrain Rios Montt succeeds in a military coup, deposing General Fernando Lucas Garcia prior to the presidential transition, and initially establishing a three-member military junta before assuming total control as the de facto head of state.
April 10, 1982
Rios Montt launches the National Plan of Security and Development (Plan Nacional de Seguridad y Desarrollo, or PNSD), linking socioeconomic development and the extermination of subversive elements.
December 7, 1982
Army Special Forces, known as kaibiles, commit a massacre at Dos Erres in Petén, raping the women and girls, and killing men, women and children; they then kill other villagers over a three-day period during Operation Brushcutter as they return to their base of operations, leaving in total more than 200 people dead.
1982 – 1983
The army launches a series of military operations, code-named Operation Victoria 82, Operation Sofia, Operation Ixil and Operation Firmeza 83. The UN truth commission determined that during the implementation of Victoria 82, “the repression in some areas was indiscriminate, while in others it was selective, depending on the information provided by the military intelligence”. Annex H of the plan describes “the mission” as being “to annihilate the guerrillas and parallel organizations”. The 359-page operational plan for Operation Sofia says it is aimed at “exterminating subversive elements in the area” of Ixil, in northwestern Quiché.
August 8, 1983
Rios Montt is pushed out of power by a military coup, and is replaced by his defence minister, General Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores.
January 10, 1986
Mejia Victores issues Decree 8-86, a general amnesty to all those responsible for, or accused of, political and related common crimes committed between March 23, 1982, and January 14, 1986.
Peace talks begin between members of the National Reconciliation Commission (Comisión Nacional de Reconciliación, or CNR) and the Revolutionary National Unity of Guatemala (Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca, or URNG), representing left wing opposition forces.
A final peace accord is signed. Congress passes the National Reconciliation Law (Decree 145-96), including a partial amnesty, and explicitly excluding from the amnesty genocide, torture, forced disappearance, and other international crimes.
Decree 133-97 repealed all amnesty laws prior to 1996.
April 24, 1998
Bishop Juan José Gerardi, of the Office of Human Rights of the Archdiocese of Guatemala, publishes Guatemala: Nunca Más (Never Again). This is the first truth commission report, produced as part of the Recovery of Historical Memory Project (Proyecto Interdiocesano de Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica, also known as the REMHI Report). Bishop Gerardi was bludgeoned to death outside his home two days after the report’s release.
The UN-sponsored truth commission, established by a 1994 agreement and known officially as the Commission for Historical Clarification (Comisión para el Eslcarecimiento Histórico, or CEH), publishes its final report, Guatemala Memory of Silence (Tz’inil Na’tab’al). The report established that 93 percent of the crimes reported were committed by the state security forces or paramilitary. It concluded that the state committed “acts of genocide” against the Mayan indigenous population during Rios Montt’s regime, and described a “scorched earth” (“tierra arrasada”) strategy which “provoked a massive displacement of the civilian population,” and generalized massacres of rural and indigenous populations.
A group of Guatemalans joins with a Spanish civil society organization to charge eight high-ranking officials, including Rios Montt, with genocide and other international crimes in Spain under a 1985 Spanish law allowing universal jurisdiction. The Spanish National Court issues arrest warrants in connection with the case in 2006, and hears testimony of victims and experts in 2008 – 2009.
The Justice and Reconciliation Association (Associación Justicia y Reconciliación, or AJR) files a complaint with the Public Ministry against generals responsible for some of the worst abuses committed during Guatemala’s 36-year internal armed conflict, including against Rios Montt on June 6, 2001. The AJR alleges their perpetration of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The AJR is joined by Guatemalan civil society organization Center for Human Rights Legal Action (Centro para la Accion Legal en Derechos Humanos, or CALDH) and attorney Edgar Perez, who later started the Human Rights Association.
Guatemala establishes the National Reparations Program (Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento, or PNR).
AJR, working with CALDH and Edgar Perez, requests that the public prosecutor seek access to military operational plans with information concerning the violations committed during the internal armed conflict—Plans Victoria 82, Firmeza 83, Ixil, and Sofia. The judge overseeing the case in 2007 orders access to the records. On appeal, the Constitutional Court also rules in 2009 that they must be released. In response, the Ministry of Defense provides only partial copies of the documents, withholding other portions or alleging their non-existence. After the Ministry of Defense alleges that Plan Sofia disappeared, the military operational plan is leaked to the US-based National Security Archive.
The United Nations and the State of Guatemala establishes the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la impunidad en Guatemala, or CICIG) as an independent international body mandated to conduct investigations and present complaints for prosecution, as well as support reforms.
In the first of a series of trials involving soldiers, police and paramilitaries prosecuted for international crimes, Felipe Cusanero, an ex-paramilitary leader, is convicted and sentenced to 150 years for the forced disappearance of 6 indigenous people between 1982 and 1984. Others are convicted for forced disappearance and crimes against humanity in connection with the massacres at Dos Erres and Plan de Sanchez. Up until the present, the highest-ranking state security official prosecuted and convicted for international crimes was Pedro Garcia Arredondo, a former police chief, convicted in August 22, 2012 in connection with the disappearance of Edgar Saenz, a student.
Judge Carol Patricia Flores orders Rodriguez Sanchez to prison pending his prosecution for genocide and crimes against humanity. He is subsequently permitted to remain in a military hospital pending trial.
In October 2011, Mejia Victores turns himself in, but in January 2012, Judge Flores suspends his prosecution due to health reasons.
November 23, 2011
An appeals court (Sala Primera de Apelaciones del Ramo Penal) orders the recusal of Judge Flores, overseeing preliminary matters, at the request of the defense counsel of then-defendant Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, who had alleged that she lacked impartiality. The Court ordered that preliminary trial procedures advance before Judge Galvez (at the Juzgado Primero “B” de Alto Impacto). At the time, the civil parties challenged the decision with an amparo before the appeals court, seeking the continuation of Judge Flores.
Rios Montt appears before the Office of the Prosecutor for Human Rights “to solicit information about a possible criminal investigation against him,” given his imminent loss of congressional immunity. He offers to voluntarily appear for a preliminary hearing.
January 26, 2012
Judge Flores formally accuses Rios Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity, joining a case against three other retired generals. Rios Montt is placed under house arrest pending the trial as he is not deemed a flight risk.
March 17, 2012
The prosecution presents a formal indictment against Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez for the massacre of 1,771 Mayan Ixils, the forcible displacement of 29,000, sexual violations and torture.
May 21, 2012
Judge Flores accepts a second set of charges against Rios Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity, in connection with the massacre at Dos Erres. The public prosecutor had presented charges of murder and crimes against humanity, but the judge substitutes the crime of genocide for murder and orders the initiation of proceedings.
January 28, 2013
Judge Miguel Angel Galvez rules that there is sufficient evidence against Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez to permit the initiation of their trial before the trial court (Tribunal de Sentencia).
Soon after, on February 7, a three-judge panel of the High-Risk Tribunal sets a date for the initiation of the trial, initially August 13. Two weeks later, on February 20, the tribunal advances the opening of the oral phase of the trial to March 19.
February 4, 2013
Judge Galvez rules on the admissibility of evidence for the parties (pursuant to Article 344 of Guatemala’s Criminal Procedure Code). Judge Galvez accepts all of the witnesses, experts and documents submitted by the prosecution, and some of the witnesses and documents proposed by the defense. Judge Galvez rejects some of the experts, reports and documentary evidence proposed by the defense on procedural grounds. Among other things, he rules that the defense had not adhered to the procedural requirements to provide the analysis or expert reports and only proposed documents to seek through a judicial order, rather than submitting documents directly.
Among other things, Judge Galvez overrules the defense challenges to the admissibility of army plans related to Operation Sofia, ruling that the state cannot justify the withholding of information from human rights prosecutions on “state secrets” grounds.
The defendants file a motion for reconsideration, which Judge Galvez denies, and subsequently an amparo challenging this decision.
(The Guatemalan Criminal Procedure Code permits the admission of new evidence during the trial, pursuant to Article 381, if it is indispensable or clearly useful to clarify the truth, with the possibility to suspend the proceedings to facilitate this for a maximum of five days.)
March 11, 2013
The Constitutional Court rejects the amparo appeal filed by Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez asserting that the 1986 historic amnesty filed by Rios Montt’s successor, General Mejia Victores, should prevent the pending prosecution.
An amparo filed by General Lopez Fuentes, former Army Chief of Staff under Rios Montt, seeking the court’s upholding of the 1986 amnesty, remains pending before the Constitutional Court.
March 19, 2013
The trial of Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez begins before a three-judge panel.
In response to the expulsion of Rios Montt’s attorney from the trial on the first day, Rios Montt files an amparo asserting his rights were not protected.
Among other things, Judge Barrios, the presiding judge of the tribunal, provisionally accepts into evidence all of the proposed defense evidence, despite the more limited ruling by Judge Galvez on February 4, in recognition of the pending legal challenge on this issue. Defendants also file an amparo in response to the provisional admission of this evidence, and the swearing in of their witnesses. Despite that Judge Barrios effectively ruled in their favor, the defense argues that only the first-instance, or pre-trial, judges can rule on the admissibility of evidence, and that the trial court does not have this authority.
April 3, 2013
The Constitutional Court partially affirms the provisional remedies ordered by the appellate court (Sala Cuarta de Apelaciones) on February 15 and March 6. These remedies were ordered in response to the defendants’ amparo challenging Judge Galvez’ February 4, 2013 decision rejecting some of the defense’s proposed experts, witnesses, reports and documents.
The Constitutional Court overturns Judge Galvez’ decisions to reject some proposed defense evidence as impertinent and useless, but upholds his decision to reject other proposed defense evidence as excessive. For the evidence the Court ordered included, it affirmed that this could be introduced without affecting the start date of the trial. In its ruling, the Court identified that the defense cannot propose evidence at a late stage in a manner that would delay the start of the process, or require a reversion to earlier stages, a “situation that would be illegal.”
As relief, the Court ordered that the trial court should provide the case file to the judge overseeing the preliminary phase (Primera Instancia Penal B), and this judge must within 2 days admit the evidence that was previously rejected, except for that which had been identified as excessive (abundante), and that the judge should then provide the resolution to the trial court within 24 hours.
April 17, 2013
Judge Flores issues a notification of the decision rejecting as illegal her prior recusal from the evidentiary phase of the case.
A five-judge panel of the Supreme Court issued a decision dated May 23, 2012 that the recusal request filed by Lopez Fuentes’ defense counsel – leading to the replacement of Judge Flores with Judge Galvez for overseeing the preliminary matters of the case – was invalid.
This Supreme Court decision grants the CALDH amparo of December 13, 2011. The CALDH amparo challenged the November 23, 2011 resolution ordering Judge Flores’ recusal and transferring pre-trial deliberations to the oversight of Judge Galvez. The May 23, 2012 decision orders that the applicant is restored to the legal situation prior to the recusal resolution.
The defense appealed and the Constitutional Court confirmed the Supreme Court’s decision on December 13, 2012.
News reports state that a three-judge panel of the appellate court reportedly recognizes this resolution on March 13, 2013.
As a matter of course, it took until April 2013 for the notification of the final decision concerning the illegality of the prior recusal to reach Judge Flores, and until April 17, 2013 for Judge Flores to notify the parties.
April 17, 2013
Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice (Corte Suprema de Justicia, or CSJ) orders the appellate court to clarify within five days whether Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez can benefit from the 1986 Mejia Victores amnesty, repealed during the peace process.
April 18, 2013
Judge Carol Patricia Flores, judge of first instance, orders the trial annulled, asserting that the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court judgments compel this decision.
April 19, 2013
The trial court convenes in a brief hearing. In a resolution, it asserts that judicial independence, the obligation to not follow illegal orders, and Judge Flores’ exceeding her authority require that the trial court not follow Judge Flores’ order to annul the proceedings thus far. The tribunal suspends the proceedings pending Constitutional Court review; and asserts its compliance with the Constitutional Court judgment of April 3.
April 22-23, 2013
- The Court rejected on procedural grounds the CALDH complaint (ocurso en queja) which sought to reverse Judge Flores’ annulment order.
- The Court resolved that the trial court must transfer the case file to Judge Flores within 2 hours of being notified in order in order for Judge Flores to issue an order consistent with the Constitutional Court’s April 3 resolution concerning the admissibility of defense evidence.
- The Court rejected a request by the defense to expand (ampliar) its April 3 decision and annul all proceedings subsequent to Judge Galvez’ February 4 decision declaring some evidence inadmissible.
- The Court found that the trial court violated Rios Montt’s right to a defense (violation of right to be represented by a trusted attorney) in its expulsion of one of his attorneys, Francisco Garcia Gudiel, on the first day of the trial.
- The Court ruled in favor of attorneys Moises Galindo and Cesar Calderon, attorneys for co-accused Rodriguez Sanchez, who had filed an amparo contesting their being forced to defend Rios Montt subsequent to Garcia Gudiel’s expulsion.
- The Court separately rejected an appeal by Rios Montt’s attorney that the advancement of the start date of the trial, to March 19, constituted a violation of his rights.
- The Court made a separate ruling concerning the Dos Erres charges.
- The Court also issued several concurring opinions.
April 30, 2013
The trial court returns from a recess. The trial court had suspended hearings on April 19.
On April 30, the trial court restates Garcia Gudiel as Rios Montt’s representation. None of the other attorneys who had represented him previously–and walked out in protest en masse on April 18–appear. Rodriguez Sanchez is represented by Otto Ramirez, a public defender.
After two days of hearings — April 30 and May 2 — the trial court suspends hearings again until May 7 to allow the newly introduced public defender five days to prepare.
May 2-3, 2013
The Constitutional Court issues four rulings resulting from defense appeals related to the opening day of the trial.
In only one – concerning the trial court’s decision to provisionally admit all of the defense’s evidence – does the Constitutional Court grant the relief requested.
- The Court rules that the trial court is not authorized to make judgments concerning the admissibility of defense evidence, and that this authority as exclusively within the competence of the pre-trial, or first instance, judge. This ruling is in response to a defense challenge to the trial court’s refusal to suspend the trial to allow the pre-trial judge to issue a new ruling on the admissibility of evidence.
Three other resolutions concern questions around the legal representation of Rios Montt on the first day of the trial.
- The Constitutional Court rejects the challenge of CALDH to the April 18 order by the Court of Appeals (Sala Tercera de la Corte de Apelaciones) that the trial court reincorporate Francisco Garcia Gudiel into Rios Montt’s defense team after his expulsion on the first day of the trial.
- The Constitutional Court rejects on procedural grounds Rios Montt’s challenge (ocurso en queja) to the trial court’s re-opening proceedings on April 30.
- Because it had already ruled on this question on April 23, the Constitutional Court rejects a provisional amparo filed by Moises Galindo and Cesar Calderon, Rodriguez Sanchez’ attorneys, concerning their representation of Rios Montt on the first day of the trial.