Guatemala: court seeks amnesty for Ríos Montt

Guatemala's Constitutional Court (CC) voted 5-2 on Oct. 22 to issue a ruling that could lead to amnesty for former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83), who faces charges of genocide for the killings of 1,771 indigenous Ixil from March 1982 to August 1983 in a counterinsurgency campaign he headed. The CC ordered the trial judge, High Risk Cases Court judge Carol Patricia Flores Polanco, to rule on defense lawyers' motion for a dismissal of the charges based on Decree 8-86, a 1986 blanket amnesty for all crimes committed by the Guatemala military and leftist rebels during Guatemala's civil war, which started in 1960.

Judge Flores' court convicted Ríos Montt on the genocide charges on May 10 of this year and sentenced the former dictator to 80 years in prison, but the CC set the conviction aside 10 days later on a technicality and ordered a new trial.

Human rights groups denounced the CC's Oct. 22 ruling as a transparent attempt to dismiss the case against Ríos Montt. Decree 8-86's validity is questionable. It was issued by dictator Gen. Humberto Mejía Víctores (1983-86) shortly before he ceded power to newly elected president Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo (1986-1991). According to the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH), the decree violates Guatemala's international treaty commitments and in any case was superseded by a later amnesty in the National Reconciliation Law of 1996, passed as part of the process that ended the civil war. The 1996 law's Article 8 specifies that the "extinction of penal responsibility referred to in this law will not be applicable to the crimes of genocide, torture and forced disappearance." (El País, Madrid, Oct. 23, from correspondent; Latin American Herald Tribune, Oct. 23 from EFE; Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala blog, Oct. 23)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, October 27.