Rights activists in Guatemala are denouncing the Dec. 17 decision by the country’s Constitutional Court finding that the government of Spain has no standing to bring charges against five Guatemalan generals and two civilians accused of genocide. The court also ruled last week, citing sovereign immunity, that the arrest orders of army officers Angel Aníbal Guevara Rodríguez and Pedro García Arredondo should be dropped. The rulings could affect the prosecution of genocide charges against generals Efraín Ríos Montt and Benedicto Lucas García.
At issue is the bloody seizure of the Spanish Embassy in 1980, which had been occupied by protesters. Guatemalan dissidents, including the father of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Rigoberta Menchú, were shot and burnt to death in a conflagration. Spanish official Federico Saínz was among the dead after Guatemalan troops stormed the embassy. Official relations between Guatemala and Spain were severed at the time.
The Myrna Mack Foundation, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, and the Center for Legal Action on Human Rights criticized the court’s decision. “This merely demonstrates to us that there is no justice in Guatemala and that cases of genocide will never be brought to justice,” said Rigoberta Menchú, who won a Nobel Prize for Peace in 1992. Menchú invoked the possibility that Spain will act against the th men, adding, “They cannot be arrested here, but the warrants for their arrest continue to be valid outside of the country.”
Rights advocates continue to be targeted in Guatemala despite the return to democracy in 1986 and the end of the civil war in 1996. Catholic bishop Juan José Gerardi, a human rights leader, was murdered in 1998. Other clergy murdered during the military dictatorship was Rev. Stanley Rother, a Catholic priest whose cause for beatification is now being postulated—one of 10 Catholic priests murdered in 1981 alone.
Ironically, Gen. Efrain Rios Montt is the brother of Bishop Mario Rios Montt, who succeeded in the see vacated by Bishop Gerardi. Rios Montt is the founder of the Guatemalan Republican Front party and said to be a friend of US televangelist Pat Robertson. An ordained minister of the Pentecostal Church of the Word, Rios Montt came to power in a coup d’etat in March 1983 but was deposed in August 1983.
Rios Montt’s 1982 coup had prevented Gen. Aníbal Guevara from taking power following a tightly controlled “election” overseen by his predessor Gen. Romeo Lucas García, whose brother Benedicto served as armed forces commander. In 2000, Guatemala’s Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) sought the prosecution of both Rios Montt and the Lucas Garcia brothers for war crimes and genocide. The AJR cited 11 massacres in which more than 900 people were killed, others tortured and thousands forced to flee their homes. Painstaking forensic anthropology at the massacre sites since Guatemala’s return to civilian government have provided abundant evidence for the prosecution. (Spero News, El Periodico, Guatemala, Dec. 18; Romeo Lucas Garcia obituary in The Guardian, May 30, 2006)
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