International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Sepur Zarco Sexual Violence Case Begins in Guatemala

A groundbreaking case related to Guatemala’s 36-year civil conflict opened today before High-Risk Court A. It marks the first time that a domestic court has heard charges of sexual slavery as an international crime. We have added background information on the case, and information on the two accused, their defense teams, and the civil parties in the case. Jo-Marie Burt, associate professor of political science at George Mason University and Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, will be in situ to observe the Sepur Zarco trial and will provide IJ Monitor with regular reports on the proceedings.

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Guatemalan Court Rules out Amnesty for Genocide and Crimes against Humanity

In a long-awaited judgement, a Guatemalan appellate court ruled last week that a 1986 amnesty decree could not apply to international crimes, including genocide and crimes against humanity.   The decision was in relation to the case of former head of state Efrain Rios Montt, who still faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the death of 1,771 Mayan Ixiles between March 1982 and August 1983.

The question of the amnesty had been pending since October 2013, when the constitutional court ordered the first chamber of the appellate court to further elaborate on a ruling it made in 2012, rejecting the applicability of amnesty to Rios Montt. In the intervening two years, more than 100 judges excused … Continue Reading

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Court Orders Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez Retrial to Begin in January 2016

On August 25, the high-risk court overseeing proceedings against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt and his then-head of military intelligence Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez ruled that a joint retrial of the men can proceed.  As a result of Rios Montt’s poor mental fitness, the trial, ordered to commence on January 11, 2016, is to be held behind closed doors.

By a majority decision, the three-judge panel found that Rios Montt lacks the mental capacity necessary to face a regular trial.  But the majority cited provisions of Guatemalan law that allow special procedures in such cases, including the appointment of a guardian to assume the defense, and conducting the trial behind closed doors. A trial under these conditions cannot result in criminal sanction, … Continue Reading

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What Will Upheaval in Guatemalan Politics Mean for Grave Crimes Cases?

Another week of dramatic developments in Guatemala culminated in former Vice President Roxana Baldetti’s arrest on corruption charges and a request from the attorney general and UN-backed international investigators to impeach sitting President Otto Perez Molina.  Meanwhile, a legal complaint against the lead prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Human Rights Unit stalled when the judge in the case withdrew.  The legal and political outcomes from both sets of proceedings remain to be seen, but each holds potential to significantly influence the future of grave crimes prosecutions in Guatemala.

Corruption Probe Reaches the Top

On August 23, President Perez Molina addressed the nation to say that he had no intention of resigning from office.  The address and a late-night cabinet meeting followed a … Continue Reading

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Expert Findings Cast Doubt on Rios Montt Retrial

A retrial of former Guatemalan head of state Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity appeared to become increasingly unlikely yesterday.  Doctors testified before the high-risk court overseeing the proceedings that the octogenarian defendant has dementia and other health problems.

Rios Montt and his co-accused, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, are facing retrial related to the deaths, rape, torture and forced displacement of thousands of Mayan Ixiles during the peak of violence in Guatemala’s 36-year long internal conflict. On May 10, 2013, another high-risk trial court convicted Rios Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity, while Rodriguez Sanchez was acquitted on all charges. Ten days later, however, the Constitutional Court annulled the verdict and ordered a retrial.

Early on the … Continue Reading

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Rios Montt Transferred to Psychiatric Hospital to Test Fitness for Retrial

After days of legal deadlock, former head of state Efrain Rios Montt has been transferred to a psychiatric hospital for an evaluation of his fitness to be retried on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.  The transfer to a private hospital, Los Pinos, occurred immediately following a court hearing to settle the matter on Tuesday, August 4.

On July 23, the high-risk court overseeing the proceedings ordered Rios Montt’s transfer to national psychiatric hospital, Federico Mora, after his defense attorneys argued that he was senile. However, the transfer, scheduled for July 25, was suspended at the last minute by an appellate court order that allowed a habeas corpus motion presented by Rios Montt’s defense attorneys. The motion was subsequently rejected on July … Continue Reading

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Guatemalan Genocide Trial Scheduled to Reopen This Week Amid Growing Corruption Crisis

The genocide trial against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt is due to reopen in Guatemala on Thursday, July 23. The trial gripped the nation when Rios Montt was convicted of genocide in 2013. However, the attention on the anticipated retrial has been limited given the obstacles to prosecution, as well as the country’s growing political crisis, following massive corruption scandals brought to light by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the public prosecutor.

The Rios Montt retrial has been stymied by obstacles and its opening this week is far from certain. Earlier this month, Guatemala’s National Forensic Institute presented a medical report concluding that Rios Montt was unfit to stand trial. Relying on this medical report, defense attorneys … Continue Reading

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Will Rios Montt Be Tried Again for Genocide in Guatemala?

Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt is due to be retried for genocide and crimes against humanity on July 23 – after his 2013 conviction was set aside by the Constitutional Court – but a doctor’s determination last week that the military strongman is unfit for trial raises more questions than answers.

Last week, Guatemala’s National Forensic Institute presented a medical report concluding that Rios Montt was senile. In its two-page report, the institute concluded that the former general did not have full use of his mental capacities, could not properly understand the charges against him, and could not contribute to his own defense. The report further concluded that any additional evaluation would only cause unnecessary stress and would reach no different … Continue Reading

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Rios Montt Could be Declared Unfit to Stand Trial

Earlier today, Guatemala’s National Forensic Institute declared former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt senile, only two weeks before the scheduled date of his retrial for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court annulled the former head of state’s conviction in 2013, only days after the verdict, requiring a retrial which has faced repeated obstacles. A retrial is now scheduled for July 23.

The National Forensic Institute reported today that Rios Montt’s mental health has degenerated to such a degree that he is unable to understand the charges to be presented against him and could not follow a trial or judicial proceedings. Further, the report asserts that due to his age, Rios Montt’s condition is unlikely to improve and further evaluation is thus unnecessary.

Rios … Continue Reading

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Guatemalan President Could Face Impeachment While Uncertainty Continues to Surround Genocide Trial

Guatemala’s President Otto Pérez Molina is again on the verge of facing prosecution in connection with recent corruption scandals that have shaken the country. A prior decision from the country’s highest court would have spared him. However, the Constitutional Court’s decision last week reinstated a congressional committee that recommended the president’s immunity be removed.

Last Wednesday, a majority of the Constitutional Court annulled its June 18 decision, which at the time interrupted the work of an investigative committee convened by Guatemala’s Congress. Following the court’s decision, Congress appointed a new member of the investigative committee, Salvador Baldizon, after the prior head had resigned, facing his own corruption allegations.

By Friday, the investigative committee had released its report, which concluded that the president … Continue Reading

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