International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

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

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


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

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


Judgment in Genocide Trial Expected Today at 4 pm Despite Pre-trial Judge's Call for Trial's Annulment

The trial in the case of Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez for genocide and crimes against humanity concluded this morning.

The last order of business was a statement from Rodriguez Sanchez, head of military intelligence under Rios Montt’s government. He spoke to the court, affirming his innocence of the charges against him. Then, with a bang of her gavel, presiding Judge Yassmin Barrios  declared the conclusion of the trial and said that the court would reconvene at 4 pm (Guatemala time) for a verdict and sentencing.

In light of a pre-scheduled hearing called by Judge Carol Patricia Flores, a pre-trial judge who handles evidentiary and other matters in connection with the case, Judge Barrios instructed the parties that, while they may attend that … Continue Reading

Historic Genocide Trial Nears End; Rios Montt Addresses the Court, Declares Innocence

After several weeks of fits and starts, the trial of Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez is nearing conclusion. The former head of state and chief of military intelligence, being prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity in a Guatemalan courtroom, could expect a sentence as early as today after a dramatic week. After Thursday’s hearing, all that remains of the trial is the statement of co-accused Rodriguez Sanchez. There were risks on Wednesday that the trial’s conclusion would be interrupted by legal maneuvers and the intervention of other courts, and those risks remain though they are decreasingly likely now.

The Public Ministry presented closing arguments on Wednesday afternoon, and on Thursday the court heard the remaining closing arguments from … Continue Reading

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