Rios Montt found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity

Brigadier General José Efraín Rios Montt (center, in headphones) awaits the verdict of his trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Photo:

Former Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity today at his trial in Guatemala City. He was immediately sentenced to 50 years imprisonment on the genocide charge, with an additional 30 years on the charge of crimes against humanity.

"The damage incurred is irreperable," said Judge Jazmin Barrios, reading the court's verdict to a packed courtroom. "As de facto president, it is logical that he had full knowledge of what was happening and he did nothing to stop it."

The 86-year-old former General and head of state was charged with the crimes over a counterinsurgency campaign in 1982-1983 that resulted in the deaths of 1,771 Maya Ixil.

Prosecutors said the Guatemalan Army's campaign against this indigenous ethnic group included the systematic use of rape, burning of crops, torture, infanticide, and forced displacement.

Rios Montt's 17-month rule was the bloodiest phase of Guatemala's 36-year internal armed conflict. Both he and co-defendant Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, his former head of military intelligence, denied all charges against them.

Sanchez was acquitted of all charges Friday.

After the verdict was read, Montt's lawyers tried to usher him from the courtroom, only to see him ordered to remain until police arrived to escort him to jail.

Surrounded by a scrum of reporters and photographers at the defense table, Montt tried to make himself heard above the noise. The press refused to move away from Montt, despite the judge's entreaties. The Ixil sang quietly amid the chaos.

Montt was finally taken into custody at about 5:50 p.m. local time.

Montt had remained mostly silent throughout the proceedings, which opened on March 19, 2013. Yesterday, however, he asked to speak in his own defense for the first time and gave a declaration that lasted 55 minutes.

"I am innocent," he told the packed courtroom. "I never had the intent to destroy any national ethnic group."

“I was never in the Ixil area during this time," said co-defendant Rodriguez Sanchez earlier today. "I am innocent of all charges. I am innocent. I have no guilt.”

Separately today in a lower court, Judge Carol Patricial Flores issued a decision reaffirming her earlier mandate that the trial must be suspended. Her ruling, if upheld, would return the proceedings to an earlier point in November, 2011, before any victims testified. The intramural legal conflict between these two courts, and the Constitutional Court—the nation's highest authority—will continue.

Follow proceedings and analysis of the legal battle to follow: NISGUA, Plaza Publica, and the OSJI's trial monitoring account are good places to start. You can follow them and others on this Twitter list. The site is the best source I've found for legal analysis.

Guatemala coverage archives
1983 "MacNeil/Lehrer Report" on debate over military aid
1982 MacNeil/Lehrer on reports Ríos Montt committed atrocities
• "I am innocent," Ríos Montt tells court in genocide trial
Ríos Montt trial enters final phase, 75 years sought
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
Waiting. Snapshots from Ríos Montt genocide trial courtroom


  1. What a remarkable job Ms. Jardin has done of reporting these events. I would have remained ignorant of what transpired, save for her efforts. Thank you.

  2. This is very good news for all of us who are struggling to end impunity for human rights violators and who hold the people of Guatemala in our hearts. Thanks for being there as a witness for all of of us who couldn’t be, Xeni.

  3. I’m so glad, I’m really so glad, growing up in guatemala in the 80’s wasn’t something I wish upon my worst enemy… finally some justice to the tens of thousands this evil man murdered in the name of stopping communism

  4.  I wish that they had the authority and ability to bring back Ronald Reagan — the funder, the backer, the director — and put him and his toadies on trial right alongside their client, Rios Montt.

  5. This is a good start. I hope the process holds together and the old reptile is ultimately put into a cage.

  6. re:  Sanchez’s acquittal and that whole final paragraph, why do I get the sinking feeling that defeat will end up snatched from the jaws of victory?  When I read the headline, I was relieved, but now I’m just as cynical as ever :/

    1. Yeah, why was Sanchez acquitted of all charges, given he was Montt’s military intelligence chief, while Montt was found guilty? 
      Wouldn’t Sanchez have known at least as much as Montt what was being done to the Ixil indians, and if didn’t try to stop it, be as guilty as Montt?

      Xeni, can you explain why Sanchez was found not guilty? 

      1. Montt’s defense apparently centered around not being the one who gave the orders, that honor going to the current head of state. Likewise, my understanding is that the prosecution argued that he was still responsible because he was responsible for the man who did give the orders for the genocide. If Sanchez was neither the one who gave the orders nor responsible for the man who did, perhaps the case against Montt undermined the case against Sanchez. That’s just a guess though. I still want to hear what Xeni says.

  7. It would be crass to say something like “Hah! You lose! Suck it you evil prick!”. So I won’t.

  8. I also wish to express my thanks to you, Xeni, and to Mile O’Brien too, for bringing this before the American public. None of the traditional media have even acknowledged the trial, let alone explained with such detail the impact it has not only on the Ixil and the Guatemalan people, but to history itself.

  9. Thank you for your coverage of the trial, Xeni. My nephew is Guatemalan Indian and this means a great deal to my family. Now, if only we could prosecute the US politicians, CIA operatives and corporate executives from United Fruit who enabled the genocide.

  10. Thank you for your excellent coverage over the course of the trial. So glad to hear the guilty verdict!

  11. It’s worth noting that the New York Times’s coverage today made a point of noting the involvement of the United States in Guatemalan politics, including the difference between the Carter administration cutting off aid for the military, and Reagan’s eager embrace of Montt as an ally. Quoting the Times:

    “After a regional meeting, President Ronald Reagan described him as “a man of great personal integrity and commitment.””

    I have to step away from any pretense of objectivity at this point, and state that since I was 25 when Reagan took office, I experienced the fully conscious and helpless horror of his repugnant, perverse grip on the national consciousness. 

    Never forget that contemporary Republicans (if that term can be used) have no greater hero than this doltish shell of a human being. It explains a lot.

  12. I’ve never been happier to have my pessimism knocked over.  This won’t undo the past but it hopefully brings some justice.

    1.  Indeed.  I was so sure he would walk away in the end.  Given the continuing corruption in the form of threats I am amazed and dazzled by the prosecution’s determination to see this out.

  13. Bravo Guatemala, for facing your past and giving it justice, an extremely important precedent in Latin America in general, Central America in particular.
    Bravo Xeni, for keeping us informed on this important series of events.

    A terrible shame I can’t say the same for Mexico with ex-President Luis Echeverría Alvarez, for giving the order that led to the 1968 student massacre as Secretary Of The Interior, then giving unprecedented powers to law enforcement (under the pretext of combating terrorism, of course) during his 1970-76 presidency, creating bloated, corrupt and brutal federal police forces with consequences that linger in purulence to this day.

  14. Unfortunately, there will always be some butcher ready to do some dirty work. Empowering him is the biggest crime. Closing our eyes and going on with our lives is the endorsement of that crime. Justice is not halfways done until we accept our own weakness and unconcerned sefishness in the awareness of such events.

  15. Thank you, Xeni.
    This sentence gave me chills:  “The Ixil sang quietly amid the chaos.”

  16. A military prick with an inflated ego pulls a coup d’etat,
    his actions yell “l’etat c’est moi”.

    Then he pulls an Alberto Gonzalez, “I don’t recall/I had no knowledge”?
    Fuck you, Jack, “l’etat c’est toi!”

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