Guatemala: Genocide trial may soon restart; Obama to meet with Central American leaders

PHOTO: James Rodríguez/ "Protest demanding continuation of Genocide trial aganst Rios Montt."

A brief Saturday update from Guatemala, where the genocide trial of former US-backed military dictator Rios Montt and his head of military intelligence Rodriguez Sanchez has been on hold after a series of legal actions involving various Guatemalan courts.

In case you're just catching up: here's the previous installment in our series about a march Friday that honored slain bishop and human rights defender Juan Gerardi.

The sense here today is that the trial could possibly reconvene next week, following Friday's hearing by Judge Carol Patricia Flores involving one set of disputed procedural details. But whether or when the trial will resume is not clear just yet.

Independent Guatemalan online news organization Plaza Publica has an explainer of Friday's proceedings here (Spanish).

And from the Open Society Justice Initiative's update (English):

Judge Flores, a first-instance judge overseeing pre-trial matters, convened the hearing pursuant to a Constitutional Court ruling issued on Thursday instructing her to carry out – “exactly” – an earlier Constitutional Court decision that required her to incorporate evidence deemed inadmissible in earlier pre-trial proceedings and, immediately thereafter, return the case file to the trial court. The Constitutional Court provided this order in response to Judge Flores’ request for guidance, after she stated that the Constitutional Court’s orders, coupled with her own actions, left her with “doubt and uncertainty” about how to proceed.

As mentioned in previous posts here on Boing Boing, various representatives of the international community are continuing to express concern over the fact that this historic trial has been placed on hold.

Again, from

Prensa Libre reported that the U.S. government urged the authorities in Guatemala to ensure that the trial is transparent and impartial. Stephen J. Rapp, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, concluded a three-day trip to Guatemala on Friday. During his visit, Ambassador Rapp stated that the genocide case is important not just for Guatemala, but for the entire world.

Various sources reported that the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) filed a formal complaint with Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman (Procuraduría de los Derechos Humanos, or PDH) concerning Judge Flores’ annulment of the trial. The complaint argues that the judge exceeded her authority. The PDH provided Judge Flores five days to respond.

According to press reports, President Otto Perez Molina again intervened in public discussions around the trial on Friday. He described the trial as historic, but warned that the process can have negative consequences. The President stated that he would not personally intervene in the process.

In related news, President Barack Obama will meet with Central American leaders in Costa Rica from May 2-4 at the Central American Integration System (SICA) Summit. Among the heads of state scheduled to attend is Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina. There is no indication that the historic trial will be on the agenda.

On Friday, Obama met with leaders of corporations that have a major presence in Central America. Among them, perhaps of most interest to Boing Boing readers: Franklin Chang Díaz, president, Ad Astra Rocket Company, whose funding comes mostly from Costa Rica.

And in today's New York Times, a reminder of one reason Americans should bother caring about the genocide trial in Guatemala, and the greater issues to which it is linked: Guatemalans (and other Central Americans) are fleeing violence and poverty for the US.

For more on the trial, here is Boing Boing's archive of my coverage from Guatemala.


  1. Forgive me, but why are you reporting on this?  Do you have experience dealing with post-conflict reconciliation and prosecutions?  Do you have expertise in Guatemala   Do you speak Spanish?  These are genuine questions and not intended to be snarky.  I am also just rather confused as to why this is being published on BoingBoing and not, say, The Atlantic or a law/peace studies blog.

  2. Every time I hear US figures tout transparency and  human rights my hypocrisy meter starts to quiver a little.  However, I am amazed that Obama has taken any time to do this.  It has to be a little embarrassing, though, to have Guantanamo in the background.  Granted, Guantanamo is not the same as lining up villagers to hack them to death, but it is a blight on the US reputation.

  3. US will help those who did its bidding until circumstances make that impossible.  So, advice will be given as to how to pull a rabbit out of the hat, keeping current people in power and getting the defendants off with the least punishment justifiable.

  4. I have avoided comments like the plague until now, but, and, so,… this may give some standard of measurement for the following. I have been a reader of bb since hardcopy zine issue #1, and I finally feel I must express my doubts that, while genocide and cute cat pix (not that I’m equating the two) deserve their respective places online, perhaps both are diluting the beloved bb brand a wee bit too much. Does either qualify as ‘happy mutant’?

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