International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Witness Testimony Resumes after Defense Lawyers Unsuccessfully Try to Remove Judge from Molina Theissen Case

On Monday, April 9, defense lawyers filed a recusal motion against Presiding Judge Pablo Xitumul, who is overseeing the Molina Theissen trial before High Risk Tribunal “C.” They claimed that Judge Xitumul’s father had been forcibly disappeared and that the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) found his body in 2003 at a military base in Rabinal, Alta Verapaz. The court agreed to hear the arguments of the parties on the motion but ultimately ruled that the defense lawyers failed to demonstrate that there was any connection.

It remains unclear whether Judge Xitumul’s father was forcibly disappeared and whether his remains were found in 2003 as the defense lawyers claim.

Judge’s Father: Victim of Enforced Disappearance?

Jorge Lucas Cerna, son of and lawyer … Continue Reading

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“I Choose to Live:” Emma Molina Theissen Testifies in High-Stakes Guatemala Trial

The Molina Theissen trial continued in Guatemala City on April 2 and 3, 2018. The highly anticipated testimony of Emma Molina Theissen was heard on April 3, as well as an expert on military archives and strategy, Mario Tulio Álvarez. On April 2, psychologist Jorge de la Peña Martínez testified about the how the torture and sexual abuse endured by Emma Molina Theissen while in military detention affected her physically and psychologically. During her interrogations by the military, he said, “They physically attacked her; they deprived her of food and water; and they repeatedly raped her, all with the objective of destroying her psychologically, socially, and morally.”

Psychological expert: “The torture and sexual violence Emma experienced left a permanent mark on … Continue Reading

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Former Malian Islamist Fighter Al Hassan Makes Initial Appearance at the ICC

On Wednesday, April 4, Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud, the Malian national accused of religious and gender‑based persecution, made his initial appearance before a pre-trial judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The main purpose of the appearance, which was held at the seat of the court in The Hague, was to confirm Al Hassan’s identity and to ascertain that he understands the charges against him.

Al Hassan, 40, was transferred to the ICC detention center on March 31, 2018, four days after judges issued a warrant for his arrest. Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda praised the West African country of Mali – a member of the ICC – for cooperating with the court by swiftly surrendering the accused.

The … Continue Reading

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Thrice Abducted: Perspectives from a Former LRA Signaler who Served with Ongwen

He was abducted three times and spent over 10 years in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), where he served as a force signaler. After he finally escaped, he was granted amnesty by the Ugandan government. This article explores the perspectives of this former long-serving LRA fighter regarding the trial of Dominic Ongwen, whom he met and served with while in captivity. In this article, we shall refer to him as “Omara” to protect his identity. Omara expressed his opinion about the trial during an interview conducted with him in northern Uganda in March 2018.

Ongwen, a former LRA commander is currently on trial at International Criminal Court (ICC), where he is charged with over 70 counts of war crimes and crimes … Continue Reading


The Legacy of Ríos Montt, Guatemala’s Most Notorious War Criminal

Guatemala’s most notorious dictator, retired army general José Efraín Ríos Montt, died last Sunday of a heart attack at the age of 91. Ríos Montt came to power in a military coup d’état on March 23, 1982. He was deposed just 17 months later, on August 7, 1983, in a military coup orchestrated by his Minister of Defense, Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores.

Guatemala experienced extremely high levels of violence during its 36-year internal armed conflict. An estimated 200,000 people were killed, 45,000 disappeared, and tens of thousands forcibly displaced or exiled, along with countless victims of torture and sexual violence. According to the UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission (CEH), Ríos Montt continued and amplified the scorched-earth policy designed and implemented by his … Continue Reading

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Nominating Commission Considers Objections to Attorney General Candidates Ahead of Public Interviews

Guatemala is in the process of selecting its next attorney general to serve a four-year term: May 2018-May 2022. Because the process and result could have tremendous implications for grave crimes trials and the rule of law in Guatemala, the International Justice Monitor is providing regular situation reports.

Thirty Candidates Remain Viable

Thirty candidates to become Guatemala’s next attorney general remain in the running. After the Nominating Commission narrowed the field of applicants from 39 to 25 in late February, it reinstated four candidates following consideration of their appeals against exclusion. A fifth candidate, Mynor Francisco Hernández Castillo, successfully appealed to the Constitutional Court to be reinstated. (A list all 30 remaining applicants is at the end of this post.)

Controversial Objections

From March 13-15, the … Continue Reading

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La défense de M. Ntaganda conclut la présentation de ses moyens après avoir appelé 19 témoins

Les avocats de l’accusé de crimes de guerre Bosco Ntaganda ont conclu la présentation de leurs moyens après avoir appelé 19 témoins à témoigner devant la Cour pénale internationale (CPI). Le nombre de témoins qui ont apporté un témoignage en faveur de l’ancien commandant rebelle congolais est bien plus faible que les 111 personnes que la défense avait précédemment indiqué vouloir appeler.

Selon l’avocat de la défense Stéphane Bourgon, la défense a appelé quatre témoins qui ont apporté une déposition orale au siège de la Cour et huit autres témoins qui ont témoigné à distance par le biais d’un lien vidéo. Parmi ces témoins figurait M. Ntaganda, qui a témoigné pendant près de 120 heures sur une période de six semaines.

De plus, les témoignages de sept … Continue Reading

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Ntaganda Defense Closes Its Case After Calling 19 Witnesses

Lawyers for war crimes accused Bosco Ntaganda have closed their case after calling 19 witnesses to testify at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The number of witnesses who gave evidence for the former Congolese rebel commander is much lower than the 111 individuals whom the defense had earlier indicated it would call.

According to defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon, the defense called four witnesses that testified orally at the seat of the court in The Hague and another eight who testified remotely through the use of video link. Among the witnesses was Ntaganda himself, who testified for up to 120 hours over six weeks.

In addition, the evidence of seven defense witnesses was admitted through Rule 68 of the court’s Rules of Procedure … Continue Reading

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The Molina Theissen Trial: Witness Illustrates the Impact of Argentine Military Training in Guatemala

The prosecution in the Molina Theissen trial has called four witnesses over the course of two hearings this week. On Monday, March 26, the prosecution called Dr. Julieta Carla Rostica, an Argentine sociologist who specializes in Central American studies and has investigated Argentine military training to Guatemala, and Ruth del Valle, a classmate of Emma Molina Theissen whose brother, Julio del Valle, was Emma’s boyfriend, and who was killed in 1980. On Tuesday, March 27, two expert witnesses from the Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) testified about the search for individuals who were the victims of enforced disappearance during the Guatemalan civil war (1960-1996).

Rostica’s expert testimony was particularly important. Drawing on Argentine military documents and declassified U.S. government documents, she testified … Continue Reading

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Witness Says Most Homes Were Burned During Lukodi Attack

A survivor of a Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) attack on the Lukodi camp for internally displaced (IDP) people 13 years ago told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that most homes in the camp were burned during the attack.

Witness P-187, who testified on Thursday and Friday, told the court the LRA abducted her during the attack and made her carry food. She said as they trekked away from Lukodi, she saw LRA fighters throw babies and children into the bush because they were crying.

The witness was testifying in the trial of a former LRA commander, Dominic Ongwen, who has been charged with 13 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the Lukodi attack. In total, … Continue Reading