Guatemala postpones ex-dictator’s genocide retrial

The retrial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity was delayed on Jan. 5. Two of the three judges on the panel accepted the defense's motion that the third judge, Judge Jeannette Valdez, should recuse herself from the trial on the grounds that she is biased because she wrote her master's thesis on genocide. Rios Montt is being tried for ordering military operations that led to the torture, rape and murder of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Mayan between 1982 and 1983, part of Guatemala's bloody 1960-1996 civil war. Rios Montt was convicted on these charges in 2013 and sentenced to 80 years in prison, but 10 days later his sentence was overturned by the Constitutional Court on procedural grounds and a retrial was ordered.

The new delay marks another hurdle surrounding the ongoing trial of former dictator Rios Montt for his actions in the Guatemalan civil war. The war resulted in more than 200,000 deaths, mostly among Guatemala's large indigenous Maya population. According to a UN report released in 1999, the military was responsible for 95% of those deaths. In May the Guatemalan Congress approved a resolution denying any existence of genocide during the civil war. Rios Montt was previously protected from prosecution because he was serving as a member of congress, an immunity that was lifted due to his departure from the legislature. Rios Montt's trial marks the first time a former head of state has been prosecuted for genocide in a national court, and the UN has praised Guatemala's efforts.

From Jurist, Jan. 6. Used with permission.

  1. Guatemala: attorney for ex-dictator slain

    Unidentified gunmen on June 3 shot dead an attorney for Guatemala’s former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who has been charged with genocide. Francisco Palomo was driving in his car when gunmen unloaded a hail of bullets, striking him at least 12 times, and killing him in broad daylight in a busy commercial area of Guatemala City, authorities said. Palomo, 63, was a former constitutional court magistrate, as well as a lead attorney for Ríos Montt, whose case is unique in that it marked the first time a former dictator was charged in a domestic and not international court. (AFP)