Guatemala: Day 25 of genocide trial opens, amid ever-murky legal hijinks

Photo: James Rodriguez, An Ixil Mayan woman listens to Spanish-Ixil translation in the courtroom during the historic genocide trial against former de facto dictator Efrain Rios Montt and his head of Intelligence Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez. Both are accused of genocide and crimes against humanity committed against the Ixil Mayan people during their de facto reign from March 1982 to August 1983.

Here in Guatemala City, the trial of José Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez re-opened for the 25th session, moments ago. The trial began on March 19, and has stopped and started in fits and starts over the last month, as lawyers for the defense pursue tactics to delay (and, ultimately, stop) the proceedings. The Open Society Justice Initiative has a solid, easy-to-read analysis by Jo-Marie Burt on where things stand (or more specifically, where they stood before doors opened 10 minutes ago).


Presiding Judge Yassmin Barrios reconvened the trial of Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez Tuesday morning, only to adjourn within 30 minutes on account of the defense lawyer’s absence. Observers were left with lingering uncertainty about how the trial court would respond to Monday’s appeals court ruling. More broadly, observers and parties wondered whether the trial court would be able to hear the final defense witnesses and closing arguments, or whether it would continue to be stymied.

Meanwhile in the afternoon, the Constitutional Court released another trio of judgments related to the trial. The tangle of legal challenges pending before various judicial bodies in Guatemala has stalled the trial even while it is technically on the verge of closing arguments. The Constitutional Court’s judgments did not serve to fully clarify the route for the trial to reach its conclusion. The judgments did, however, demonstrate that there is concern among some Constitutional Court judges about the defense challenges and the delays being permitted by the courts.

The debate was suspended yesterday after only 30 minutes, due to the reported illness of Rios Montt lawyer Francisco Garcia Gudiel. Mr. Gudiel sent a message to Judge Barrios' court saying he wouldn't be able to come because he was not feeling well. He was seen in the Public Ministry later that afternoon, apparently feeling much better. This morning, he is not in court, but another one of Rios Montt's attorneys has shown up.

Follow the proceedings with live-tweets from the courtroom by NISGUA, Plaza Publica, and the OSIJ's trial monitoring account.

You can also follow them and others on this Twitter list I made.

Listen to live audio feed here or here.

Related: Watch PBS NewsHour tonight (Wednesday, May 8, 2013) for a report Miles O'Brien and I produced on the genocide trial. Check local listings for showtimes. Video will be online this evening.