International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Who’s Who

The Accused

Jose Efrain Rios Montt

Jose Efrain Rios Montt is a Guatemalan general who became de facto president in a coup d’etat on March 23, 1982. He ruled the country for just over sixteen months until he was overthrown in a subsequent coup d’état by his then Minister of Defense Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores on August 8, 1983. During his rule, Rios Montt installed a military regime, dissolved the congress, and suspended the constitution, replacing it with the Fundamental Statute of Guatemala (Estatuto Fundamental de Guatemala, Decree law 24-82).

Rios Montt repeatedly sought political power after the democratic transition. He founded the Guatemalan Republican Front (Frente Republicano Guatemalteco, or FRG) party in 1989, and unsuccessfully attempted to run for president twice, failing in 1990 on constitutional grounds and in 2003 for a lack of electoral support in a campaign marred by violent rioting. He was elected to congress in 1990, serving until 2004, including as president of congress from 2000 until 2004, and was then elected to serve from 2007 to 2012.

On January 26, 2012, twelve days after he lost immunity from prosecution as his congressional term ended, Rios Montt was indicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with his 1982-83 term as de facto head of state. He is currently under house arrest.

Rios Montt is the first former head of state to face genocide charges in a domestic court.

Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez

Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez served as Director of Military Intelligence (G-2) under Rios Montt. He faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for allegedly designing, supervising and executing counter-insurgency military plans, code-named Victoria 82, Sofia, Firmeza 83 and Ixil, against the Mayan indigenous population.

Rodriguez Sanchez was arrested in October 2011. He is currently detained at a military hospital, on the order of Judge Flores, as he has been deemed a flight risk.

Defense Lawyers

From day six of the trial, and at earlier stages in the proceedings, Rios Montt was represented by Marco Antonio Cornejo Marroquin and Danilo Rodriguez. Both were among the four lawyers, along with Franciso Palomo and Luis Rosales Marroquin, who represented the defendant before the trial opened on March 19. But they were replaced on the opening morning, at the request of Rios Montt, by Francisco Garcia Gudiel.

Garcia Gudiel was Rios Montt’s attorney only for the first morning, when he was expelled at midday after a confrontation with the presiding judges. Cornejo returned to the defense on day two; Rodriguez on day five.

Defendant Rodriguez Sanchez is represented by Cesar CalederonMoises Galindo and Francisco Palomo. Palomo previously represented both Rodriguez Sanchez and Rios Montt, but currently represents only the former.

All of the existing defense attorneys for Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez walked out of the trial court in protest on April 18, appearing only in other courts for related hearings. After a suspension of the trial, when the court reconvened, the attorneys did not return to the trial court to represent their clients and the defendants were represented by new counsel.

Following a legal challenge to Garcia Gudiel’s expulsion from the hearing, the Constitutional Court recognized the violation of Rios Montt’s rights and the trial court reinstated Garcia Gudiel as Rios Montt’s defense attorney when the trial court reconvened on April 30.

For his part, Rodriguez Sanchez was represented by Otto Ramirez following the resumption of the legal proceedings on April 30. Ramirez is an appointed public defender.

Judges

Yassmin Barrios, Pablo Xitumul, Patricia Bustamante

Judge Barrios is the chief judge presiding over this trial as part of a three-judge panel of the court, the First High-Risk Tribunal A (Tribunal Primero A de Mayor Riesgo), together with Judges Patricia Bustamante and Pablo Xitumul. Judge Barrios is the President of the Tribunal and has served in the past on high-profile trials related to the internal armed conflict, including: the prosecutions of former special forces members (kaibiles) in connection with their involvement in the Dos Erres massacre; and the 2001 trial of three military officers and one priest eventually convicted for their role in the murder of Bishop Joseph Gerardi, the lead author of the REMHI Report (see glossary). In 2001, during the course of the Gerardi trial, Judge Barrios was attacked and threatened repeatedly.

Miguel Angel Galvez and Carol Patricia Flores

Judges Galvez and Flores are first-instance judges (jueces contralores) of Guatemala’s High Risk Courts (Juez Primero de Primera Instancia Penal de Mayor Riesgo) who have overseen the preliminary phases of the prosecution of Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez.

Judge Flores, of the High Risk Court “A”, was initially assigned to the case. However, after the defense succeeded in securing an order for her recusal in November 2011, on grounds of partiality, the case was transferred to Judge Galvez, of the High Risk Court “B”.

In the late stages of the oral phase of the trial, Judge Flores notified the parties that a series of legal challenges resulted in her November 2011 recusal being declared invalid, and the case was transferred back to her for all matters under the jurisdiction of the judges of first instance.

In Guatemala, the individual judges who oversee the preliminary hearings (first instance judges) are distinct from the three-judge panel of judges who oversee the trial (sentencing court). There are only two High Risk Courts in Guatemala, “A” and “B”.

Courts

In addition to the courts of first instance, Guatemala has 10 courts of appeal, a 13-member Supreme Court of Justice (Corte Suprema de Justicia), and a five-member Constitutional Court (Corte de Constitucionalidad), which increases its number to seven in special cases (challenges to the constitutionality of acts of Supreme Court, Congress, President or Vice President).

Judges of the courts of appeal and Supreme Court serve four-year terms upon election by the National Congress. The National Congress can only elect judges from a shortlist provided by magistrates, the Guatemalan Bar Association, and law school deans. Judges of the Constitutional Court serve five-year terms, and each is elected or appointed by different entities (Supreme Court of Justice, Congress, President, Superior Council of Universidad San Carlos, and the Bar Association or Colegio de Abogados).

Prosecutor

Orlando Lopez

Orlando Lopez is the prosecuting attorney on this case, and also responsible for the division in the Public Ministry responsible for investigating and prosecuting human rights related crimes.

Civil Parties

Centro para la Accion Legal en Derechos Humanos, CALDH (Center for Human Rights Legal Action)

CALDH  is participating in this trial representing the Asocacion Justicia y Reconciliacion as a querellante adhesivo, or civil party complainant, in support of the prosecution. The organization was responsible for bringing the genocide case to the Public Ministry in 2001, after the initiation of efforts to prosecute Rios Montt and others in Spanish courts. CALDH works to promote human rights through litigation, advocacy, and community outreach, with an emphasis on historical truth and social change.

Asociacion Justicia y Reconciliación, AJR (Justice and Reconciliation Association)

AJR is an association of survivors of massacres committed during the armed conflict. AJR is participating in this trial as a querellante adhesivo in support of the prosecution. They are represented by CALDH and the Bufete Juridico de Derechos Humanos. They seek accountability for the serious crimes committed during the armed conflict. AJR was founded by 22 communities from 5 regions of Guatemala deeply affected by the violations committed during the internal armed conflict.

Bufete Juridico de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Law Office)

The Human Rights Law Office, directed by Edgar Perez, represents AJR. The Law Office, under the direction of Perez, worked with CALDH to bring the case against Rios Montt to the Public Ministry in 2001, and has worked alongside the Public Ministry and CALDH to develop the case, The Office has also been responsible for the prosecution of numerous other emblematic human rights related cases in Guatemala, related to historic and contemporary violations, and is representing the organization of survivors, FAMDEGUA, serving as a civil party in the case against Rios Montt related to the Dos Erres massacre.

Other Personalities and Institutions

President Otto Perez Molina

Otto Perez Molina is the current President of Guatemala, serving since January 14, 2012. He ran under the platform of the Patriotic Party (Partido Patriota).

Perez Molina has a long military career, having served in Nebaj during the dictatorship of Rios Montt, and later as Director of Operations (D-3), chief of the Special Forces (kaibil) training center, head of the Presidential General Staff, and in the early 1990s, head of the Intelligence Directorate. He also served as the representative of the Guatemalan military in the negotiations resulting in the 1996 Peace Accords.

Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz

Claudia Paz y Paz has served as the Attorney General of Guatemala since December 2010, and during that time she has received international acclaim for reforming the Public Ministry and advancing justice and accountability in the country. Significant reforms have been undertaken during her term, including the creation of specialized courts and the designation of judges focused on “high-risk” cases.

Secretary of Peace Antonio Arenales Forno

Antonio Arenales Forno has served as Secretary of Peace since December 2011 under President Pérez Molina. He is also the Chair of the Presidential Human Rights Commission (COPREDEH).

He expressed that he does not think that genocide ever occurred in Guatemala; the limited amnesty prohibits ongoing prosecutions; and that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights overstepped its auhtority to review human rights cases committed during the period before March 9, 1987, the date upon which Guatemala accepted the jurisdiction of the court.

National Reparations Program (Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento)

The PNR was founded in 2003, based on the recommendation of the Historical Clarification Commission, in order to provide reparations and recognition to victims of the armed conflict.

Presidential Human Rights Commission (Comisión Presidencial de Derechos Humanos)

COPREDEH is the executive branch entity in charge of protecting human rights in Guatemala. Among other mandates, it is responsible for protecting human rights defenders, promoting human rights in public policy, and encouraging and reporting on the country’s adherence to international human rights agreements.

Fredy Peccerelli and FAFG

A forensic anthropologist, Fredy Peccerelli is the director and one of the founding members of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation in Guatemala City (FAFG), a nongovernmental organization that exhumes mass graves of victims of Guatemala’s civil war. Peccerelli, along with members of his immediate family, has been the subject of repeated death threats as a result of his work. In addition to his ongoing work in Guatemala, Peccerelli has conducted exhumations of mass graves in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. He testified about this work at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on 13 March 2007.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum

Rigoberta Menchú Tum is an indigenous Guatemalan of the Quiché-Maya ethnic group.  She is a leader internationally known for her work on the promotion and defense of human rights, peace and indigenous peoples’ rights. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, becoming the first indigenous and the youngest person ever to receive the award. Menchú Tum’s father, mother, and brother were all tortured and killed by the Guatemalan military.  According to the UN-sponsored Commission on Historical Clarification over 200,000 people were killed or disappeared between 1960 and 1996 in Guatemala.

Helen Mack Chang

Helen Mack Chang is a Guatemalan businesswoman and human rights activist.  She became an outspoken advocate for human fights after her sister, Myrna Mack, a social anthropologist who studied the problems of people displaced by the internal armed conflict in the country, was killed by the Guatemalan military on September 11, 1990. In 1993, Helen Mack founded and became the President of The Myrna Mack Foundation in Guatemala City. Helen Mack succeeded in obtaining the conviction of the soldier directly responsible for her sister’s murder and several years later, the conviction of one of the three officers accused of masterminding Myrna Mack’s murder.  The Myrna Mack Foundation is a major partner in CJA’s Guatemala Genocide Case before the Spanish National Court.