International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Day 20: Defense Attorneys Walk Out of Trial in Protest; Preliminary Court Judge Annuls Trial as Attorney General Calls Action Illegal and Promises Legal Challenge

On the afternoon of Thursday, April 18, in an extraordinary turn of events, the genocide trial of Efraín Ríos Montt and José Rodríguez Sánchez was brought to a halt when Judge Carol Patricia Flores of a court of First Instance declared the proceedings null and invalid. Stunned prosecutors denounced the verdict and immediately began preparing to file several motions to reverse the decision. Judge Yassmin Barrios, president of the tribunal overseeing the genocide trial, announced the trial would go ahead on Friday morning despite the ruling. And by the close of the day, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz declared the ruling “illegal” and vowed to use every measure available to stop it.

The long, strange and confusing day began in … Continue Reading

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Day 19 of Rios Montt Trial: Defense Continues to Avoid Presentation of Proposed Expert Witnesses as Trial Comes to a Close; Closing Arguments Planned

Wednesday, April 17, was a chaotic and tense day in the courtroom. Judge Yassmin Barrios began by observing that once again only two defense witnesses were present to testify before the tribunal, while some ten witnesses remained to be heard. The judge ordered Ríos Montt’s counsel, Marco Antonio Cornejo, to leave the room and personally call each of them on the phone to advise them that they were legally required to attend. Before permitting Cornejo to exit, she called the first witness present, Gustavo Porras, into the chamber and asked him to take his place in the witness chair facing the tribunal. Porras and the entire courtroom of several hundred spectators then waited in silence until the lawyer returned some … Continue Reading

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As Trial Nears Conclusion, Defense Witnesses Absent and Hearing Cut Short

Although the defense lawyers have said they have twelve witnesses to present to the court, only two of them appeared on Tuesday, leaving the judges to dismiss the hearings just after noon. Judge Yassmin Barrios reminded the attorneys that the trial is nearing its conclusion and they had an obligation to present their witnesses to ensure a speedy judicial process, as required by law.

The first witness of the day called was Ronal Mauricio Illescas García, a career army officer who rose to the rank of general. He was questioned by the defense on fundamental issues pertaining to the army’s structure, chain of command, and strategic planning. His rank and position during the Ríos Montt regime – he was a lieutenant … Continue Reading

“With one order from him, he could have changed the entire situation”: Prosecution Expert Witnesses Testify about Internal Displacement, Command Responsibility, and the History of the Conflict

On Monday, April 15, the genocide trial heard the last of the prosecution’s expert witnesses. This is reportedly the last week of the trial, barring unforeseen circumstances.

At the start of the day, Marco Antonio Cornejo, Ríos Montt’s attorney, sought to substitute one defense lawyer – Danilo Rodríguez – with another, Jaime Hernández. According to Cornejo, Rodríguez had been called away to attend another judicial proceeding and could no longer assist as Ríos Montt’s counsel. After a lengthy deliberation, the court denied the request on the grounds that Rodríguez had participated in the trial since the beginning and should have been more professional in weighing his obligations to the case, and that the trial was near its conclusion—too late to bring … Continue Reading

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Prosecution experts testify on psychological, cultural, statistical and gender issues

Friday, April 12 began with one of the defendants absent from the courtroom. Judge Barrios had excused Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for the morning to receive medical treatment. His lawyer, César Calderón, was also absent but Rodríguez Sánchez was represented in court by Francisco Palomo.

The first expert witness was Nieves Gómez, a psychologist with a specialty in criminology. She testified about the psychological impacts of the war and the “harm to the mental integrity” of individuals and the Maya Ixil community. Gómez told the court she had interviewed about 100 people in several Maya Ixil communities. Those interviews highlighted the interplay and reciprocity between the individual and the group.

She mentioned several aspects of everyday life specific to the Maya … Continue Reading

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Prosecution Presents International Law Expert, and More Forensics

The backdrop for the trial today was the visit of President Otto Pérez Molina to the Ixil region, the same area that is the focus of the accusations against defendants Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez. According to El Periódico, “Six days after a witness implicated President Otto Pérez Molina in the massacres of the Ixil population, under the name ‘Tito Arias,’ the president visited the region…. The president assured that his visit wasn’t related to the references to his participation in the armed conflict….” He said, “Here in the communities they are not following what’s happening there [in the capital]….”

The day started with an impassioned statement by lawyer Edgar Pérez for the Justice and Reconciliation Association (AJR). He told the tribunal … Continue Reading

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Defense presents military experts, prosecution presents forensic experts

Wednesday, April 10 saw evidence from a series of prosecution experts on forensic anthropology and archaeology, and defense experts on military command structures and the history of the insurgency in Guatemala. Several public figures also attended parts of the trial, including Alberto Brunori, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights;  Arnold Chacon, U.S. ambassador to Guatemala; Helen Mack, a leading Guatemalan human rights activist; and Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Peace Prize winner and a prominent indigenous rights activist.

Fredy Peccerelli, the director of the Guatemalan Foundation for Forensic Anthropology (FAFG), was the first witness. The start of his testimony was slowed by discussions between the lawyers and judges about the various reports that have been prepared by him and other … Continue Reading

Defense Calls its First Expert Witness

On Tuesday, April 9th, seven additional forensic experts testified on behalf of the prosecution, and – as permitted under the Guatemalan Criminal Procedure Code (Codigo Procesal Penal, or CCP) – the defense called its first expert witness, although the prosecution had not yet completed its presentation of evidence and witnesses in the case.  At the end of the day, Judge Yassmin Barrios indicated that the defense would be calling three additional defense witnesses on Wednesday, and instructed the defense team to provide copies of their expert reports to the prosecution attorneys.

The first three witnesses of the day, José Samuel Suasnavar Bolaños, Deputy Director of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (Fundacion de Antropologia Forense de Guatemala, or FAFG), Reynaldo Leonel Aceveda … Continue Reading

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Anthropologist Beatriz Manz Adds to Expert Testimony

Day 12 of the Rios Montt trial featured the testimony of 11 additional expert witnesses who documented the displacement of civilian populations by the army in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the later exhumation of human remains from sites in areas where the army operated during the years of the war. Prominent among these witnesses was renowned Chilean anthropologist and UC Berkeley professor Beatriz Manz, who testified regarding her research documenting the displacement of civil populations within Guatemala and in camps in the La Selva Lacandona area of Mexico in the early 1980s.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberto Menchu Tum, an indigenous Guatemalan who has dedicated her life to publicizing the plight of Guatemala’s indigenous peoples, was in the audience … Continue Reading

Day 11 of Rios Montt trial: Forensic experts testify regarding exhumations

On Friday, April 5, the 11th day of the Rios Montt trial, the prosecution presented ten additional expert witnesses associated with the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (Fundacion de Antropologia Forense de Guatemala, or FAFG), who provided graphic details regarding exhumations performed by FAFG in the Ixil region of Guatemala in recent years. Many reports provided scientific support for the claims set forth in earlier testimonies of fact witnesses.

Also on Friday, defense attorney Moises Galindo, representing Rodriguez Sanchez, formally objected to the continuation of the trial in light of the April 3 decision of the Constitutional Court (Corte de Constitucionalidad, or CC). Galindo insisted that the Constitutional Court’s decision required that the tribunal suspend the trial proceedings “to ensure that the … Continue Reading