International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Rios Montt Trial Moves to Closing Arguments: Public Ministry Seeks 75 Years in Prison for Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

Wednesday’s hearing in the Guatemalan genocide trial of Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez saw a dramatic turn of events when, after a tense morning of vitriolic outbursts and veiled threats by defense attorney Francisco Garcia Gudiel, the trial court moved in the afternoon to hear closing arguments.

Representing the Public Ministry, prosecutor Orlando Lopez gave a two and a half hour presentation outlining the case against Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez, who stand accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. The charges refer specifically to the murder of 1,771 Maya Ixils from Quiche department during the 17 months of Rios Montt’s de facto government between March 1982 and August 1983. In his concluding remarks, Lopez asked the court to … Continue Reading

Trial court reopens but adjourns quickly as defense lawyer is a no-show; Constitutional Court issues three judgments

Presiding Judge Yassmin Barrios reconvened the trial of Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez Tuesday morning, only to adjourn within 30 minutes on account of the defense lawyer’s absence. Observers were left with lingering uncertainty about how the trial court would respond to Monday’s appeals court ruling. More broadly, observers and parties wondered whether the trial court would be able to hear the final defense witnesses and closing arguments, or whether it would continue to be stymied.

Meanwhile, in the afternoon, the Constitutional Court released another trio of judgments related to the trial. The tangle of legal challenges pending before various judicial bodies in Guatemala has stalled the trial even while it is technically on the verge of closing arguments. … Continue Reading

Guatemalan appeals court orders Rios Montt genocide trial temporarily suspended

This week began with uncertainty as observers of the Rios Montt – Rodriguez Sanchez trial awaited rulings by the Guatemalan Court of Appeals (Sala Tercera de la Corte de Apelaciones) and Constitutional Court regarding some of the legal issues that have consumed the trial over the past two weeks.

The Court of Appeals issued a ruling on Monday afternoon ordering the temporary suspension of the trial. While a representative for the Constitutional Court reported to the press that the Constitutional Court would likely issue another ruling on Monday, the Constitutional Court nonetheless remained silent.

After an earlier Constitutional Court ruling allowed the trial to resume following an April 19 temporary suspension, two hearings were held last week. But the tribunal suspended the trial a second … Continue Reading

More Legal Battles in Rios Montt Genocide Trial Even While Trial Remains on Leave Until Tuesday

On Friday, the court was not in session for the trial of former de facto president Efrain Rios Montt and his then head of military intelligence Mauricio Rodriquez Sanchez on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Four judgments of the Constitutional Court issued very late on Friday caused a stir, yet none appear to jeopardize the continuation of the trial on Tuesday.

An ancillary appeals court hearing on Friday identified other challenges, with Rios Montt seeking again the annulment of much of the trial even before its conclusion. The appeals court is due to rule on this legal challenge by Monday.

The trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday, May 7, after the trial court on Thursday ordered a five-day suspension to … Continue Reading

Defense fails again to produce its witnesses; trial suspended until May 7 to allow new public defense attorney time to prepare

The trial of former head of state Efrain Rios Montt and his chief of military intelligence Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez re-convened on Thursday for a second day after the lifting of a temporary suspension imposed two weeks ago.

The only item of business remaining in the trial before the closing arguments is the presentation of the outstanding defense evidence. However, on Thursday, the defense continued to delay in the production of its witnesses. The defense’s only evidence presented on Thursday were three short videos depicting war scenes—guerrillas training and wounded soldiers screaming in agony.

Nonetheless, before the end of Thursday’s hearing, the court granted the request of Otto Ramirez, Rodriguez Sanchez’ recently appointed public defender, for a five-day suspension to prepare his defense, … Continue Reading

Embattled trial re-convenes and struggles toward its conclusion

Tuesday’s session of the trial of former de facto leader Efrain Rios Montt and his head of military intelligence Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez was striking in that it happened at all.

After nearly two weeks of serious political and legal challenges amid a suspended trial, hundreds of observers filed into the courtroom to see whether the world’s first genocide trial for a former head of state to occur in the nation where the crimes are alleged to have occurred would advance towards a verdict.

The hearing was brief—just over two hours—and anti-climactic. As expected, the court was absorbed in the practicalities of restarting the trial, and could attend only to the rulings necessary to address decisions from other courts and the restructuring of the defense teams.

The … Continue Reading

Trial to Resume Amid Expectations and Uncertainties

The historic trial of former de facto head of state Efrain Rios Montt and his chief of military intelligence, Mauricio Rodriquez Sanchez, has been suspended since Friday, April 19.  When the trial reconvenes on Tuesday April 30, it will do so in an environment of complex legal challenges, powerful political forces, and intense emotions.

Rios Montt and Rodreguez Sanchez are being prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity, for violence committed against Ixil communities in the Guatemalan highlands during Rios Montt’s 17-month rule from March 1982 to August 1983.  The trial, which marks the first time a former head of state has been prosecuted for genocide in the domestic courts where the crimes occurred, commenced March 19, 2013.

After nearly four weeks … Continue Reading

Lower court judge complies with Constitutional Court order; trial may re-start next week

After a suspenseful week of a suspended trial and a series of legal actions before multiple national courts, the trial against former de facto head of state Rios Montt and his head of military intelligence Rodriguez Sanchez for genocide and crimes against humanity may resume after a hearing convened on Friday by Judge Carol Patricia Flores.

Judge Flores, a first-instance judge overseeing pre-trial matters, convened the hearing pursuant to a Constitutional Court ruling issued on Thursday instructing her to carry out – “exactly” – an earlier Constitutional Court decision that required her to incorporate evidence deemed inadmissible in earlier pre-trial proceedings and, immediately thereafter, return the case file to the trial court. The Constitutional Court provided this order in response to … Continue Reading

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Constitutional Court issues ruling that could lead to the resumption of Guatemala genocide trial

On Thursday, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling that could lead to the resumption of the trial of former de facto head of state Rios Montt and his then head of military intelligence for genocide and crimes against humanity. The new Constitutional Court ruling compels a lower court to interpret—“exactly”—an earlier Constitutional Court decision.

Some observers contend that the lower court judge had acted beyond her authority in a manner that interrupted the trial, and that Thursday’s decision compels a reversal of the lower court judge’s actions and the continuation of the trial.

The criminal trial has been stalled for one week following the intervention of Judge Carol Patricia Flores, a first-instance judge overseeing pre-trial matters. On April 18, Judge Flores ordered … Continue Reading

Guatemala genocide trial remains at standstill while courts consider legal challenges

The Guatemalan trial of former de facto head of state Rios Montt and his then head of military intelligence Rodriguez Sanchez remains at a standstill while various legal challenges wind their way through the Guatemalan courts.

Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez are being prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity for their actions during Rios Montt’s 17-month rule in 1982 and 1983. However, in a bewildering turn of events, their trial was abruptly halted last Thursday, despite imminent closing arguments, when a judge of a first-instance court ordered the trial annulled and the proceedings reverted 17 months, a decision rejected by the trial court as illegal.

After issuing various rulings on Tuesday, the Constitutional Court remained eerily silent on Wednesday—issuing no new … Continue Reading