International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Timeline

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.

March 1990

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.

December 1996

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.

December 1997

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.

February 1999

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.

December 1999

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.

2001

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.

2005

Guatemala establishes the National Reparations Program (Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento, or PNR).

2006

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.

September 2007

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.

August 2009

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.

January 2011

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.

December 2011

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 Constitutional Court resolves various, but not all, of the pending legal challenges:

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.