Guatemala: Ríos Montt trial enters final phase, 75 years sought for genocide, crimes against humanity

Ixil Mayan women read about the trial in today's newspaper, while waiting for day 26 of the proceedings against Ríos Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez to begin in the courtroom. The former de facto dictator and his head of Intelligence are accused of genocide and crimes against humanity committed against the Ixil during a de facto reign from March 1982 to August 1983. Photo: Xeni Jardin, May 9, 2013, Guatemala City.

Here in Guatemala City, the trial of José Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez has re-opened for the 26th session. The prosecution is delivering closing arguments, revisiting the wrenching testimony of more than 90 Ixil Maya victims who told the court their personal accounts of rape, assassination, torture, and infanticide committed by Guatemalan Army soldiers.

After recounting horrific stories of sexual violence and mass murder, part of the "crimes against humanity" with which the defendants are charged, Francisco Vivar of victims' representation group CALDH (Center for Human Rights Legal Action) told the court that "There are too many stories from the women to share them all."

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 or halt the proceedings.

The Open Society Justice Initiative has a solid, easy-to-read analysis by Jo-Marie Burt on yesterday's dramatic events, in which an attorney for the defense screamed threats at the Judge and vowed to not rest until she was "behind bars;" the court then moved into the final phase of the trial.


Francisco García Gudiel, defense lawyer, goes berserk in the courtroom and declares: "What you are doing here is illegal. It is a shame that you [Judge Barrios] contributes to the impunity in this country. I will not rest until I see you in jail!" Rios Montt genocide trial. Guatemala City, Guatemala. May 08, 2013. James A. Rodríguez/

Wednesday’s hearing in the Guatemalan genocide trial of Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez saw a dramatic turn of events when, after a tense morning of vitriolic outbursts and veiled threats by defense attorney Francisco Garcia Gudiel, the trial court moved in the afternoon to hear closing arguments.

Representing the Public Ministry, prosecutor Orlando Lopez gave a two and a half hour presentation outlining the case against Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez, who stand accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. The charges refer specifically to the murder of 1,771 Maya Ixils from Quiche department during the 17 months of Rios Montt’s de facto government between March 1982 and August 1983. In his concluding remarks, Lopez asked the court to sentence each of the defendants to 75 years in prison.

It was a remarkable turn from a morning session bogged down in defense lawyers’ efforts to obstruct continuation of the trial, to an afternoon session in which the Public Ministry delivered a comprehensive and crafted presentation outlining military plans, strategies, and command structures, as well as concrete details about the victims, many of whom testified in open court about massacres in their communities, forced displacement, the burning of their homes, the destruction of their crops, and in the case of several women, their rape by soldiers.

Read the rest of the blog's analysis here.

Francisco García Gudiel, defense lawyer, yelling at Judge Yassmin Barrios in Rios Montt genocide trial. Guatemala City, Guatemala. May 08, 2013. James A. Rodríguez/


The closing arguments are ongoing. The courtroom is packed, and there is a sense of intensity and high energy. We may see a conclusion to the trial today.

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.

Watch live video feed here or listen to live audio feed here.

Guatemala coverage archives
The science behind historic genocide trial of General Ríos Montt: PBS NewsHour video report
Guatemalan Government declares State of Siege after Mining Protests: PBS NewsHour video report
PBS NewsHour reporter's notebook: Guatemala—Why We Cannot Turn Away

Ixil Mayan women listen in the courtroom during the twenty-fifth day of 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. Guatemala City, Guatemala. May 08, 2013. Photo: James A. Rodríguez/


  1. Xeni, thank you for doing this! I’ve followed your reports in both admiration for your work and in shock about the atrocities that happened in Guatemala. This trial is totally absent from any news in Germany (from where I am) – which is a shame.

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