On PBS NewsHour tonight, I spoke with Hari Sreenivasan about the aftermath and significance of Friday's court decision to convict former US-backed military dictator Rios Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Following the conviction of Guatemala's former military dictator Rios Montt on Friday, judges met today to consider reparations for victims. While the genocide will be commemorated and formal apologies made to his victims, property taken from them during the worst years of civil war will not be returned.
The court ruled for 12 forms of reparation, in accordance with Convention 169, ratified by Guatemala in 1996 (same years as peace accords). The Guatemalan state must apologize to victims, and include them in Reparations Law.
But significantly, judges denied plaintiff's request that stolen land be returned.
The sole economic request made by victims was return of land stolen during the seventeen-month '82-'83 Rios Montt regime. Judges denied this, serving a major defeat to the victims. Read the rest
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[Guatemala City] On Friday, a court in Guatemala convicted former US-backed military dictator Rios Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity, in an historic trial: this was the first time a domestic court in any nation has convicted a former head of state for these crimes.
His co-defendant Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, the head of the G-2 intelligence division under Rios Montt's 17-month regime, was absolved of all charges.
The court's full decision is due to be released today.
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."
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[Guatemala City] -- Above: Elena Caba Ijom of Nebaj, El Quiché, Guatemala, reads news about the trial as all of us in the courtroom here await a verdict in the genocide trial of Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez.
The judges are expected to announce their decision at 4pm local time, despite new calls for annulment from a lower court.
Ms. Caba Ijom told this reporter she was 8 years old when her entire family was killed by the Army in 1982. Soldiers then tied her hands and feet and threw her into a river, breaking her legs.
"I survived," she said.
[Guatemala City] -- In this 1982 episode of MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour (now PBS NewsHour), Jim Lehrer and Charlene Hunter Gault report on violence and instability across Guatemala and the actions of Efrain Rios Montt, the man at the center of a genocide trial due to reach a verdict today.
This archival episode includes rare footage from Ixil "model villages," which witnesses in this trial described as concentration camps where atrocities took place. The 1982 report also includes footage of General Ríos Montt addressing the nation in his military "sermons" that were transmitted every Sunday night at 7pm.
"Subversives, take note," the General says in the televised address, excerpted in this program. "Only the Guatemalan army will possess weapons. You put yours down. If you don't put them down we'll take them away from you. Listen further and listen well. No more assassinated people will appear on the roadside. Anyone who is outside the law will be executed." Read the rest
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Today, May 10, 2013, I am blogging from a courtroom in Guatemala, where a verdict is due for the former head of state and his former head of intelligence. They are charged with genocide and crimes against humanity.
Watch the NewsHour piece I produced with Miles O'Brien about the trial.
Separately today, Judge Carol Patricial Flores issued a decision reaffirming her earlier mandate, in a lower court, that the trial must be suspended and returned to an earlier point in November, 2011 (before any victims testified). The intramural legal conflict between these two courts, and the Constitutional Court, continues, but so will the trial: Judge Flores' decision does not change Judge Barrios' plan to issue her court's decision.
As the trial of Guatemala's former military dictator, José Efraín Ríos Montt, and his then head of intelligence, José Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, moved toward its conclusion this afternoon in Guatemala City, an unexpected thing happened: Ríos Montt asked to speak. He has remained mostly silent since the trial began on March 19. Today, he spoke in his own defense for the first time.
"I was not a commander," Ríos Montt shouted before the court just now, arguing his innocence, "I was head of state! I never authorized any plan to exterminate the Ixiles. There is no evidence to prove otherwise."
Guatemala: Ríos Montt trial enters final phase, 75 years sought for genocide, crimes against humanity
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.
Video above: "From Guatemalan Soil, Unearthing Evidence of Genocide," a report I produced with Miles O'Brien for PBS NewsHour on the science behind the historic genocide trial that is in its concluding phase today, here in Guatemala City.
And as the genocide trial entered its final phase, the Public Prosecutor reminded the court in his closing arguments that the 17 months Rios Montt was in power were, at the time, classified as a "State of Siege."
GUATEMALA CITY -- When the trial of Guatemalan General and former de facto head of state José Efraín Ríos Montt and his then chief of intelligence José Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez began on March 19, 2013, I was in Washington D.C., working with PBS NewsHour correspondent Miles O’Brien on some new science reporting projects in a shared office. The first time I went to Guatemala was around 1989, during the country’s 36-year internal armed conflict -- I was a teenager, and the experience was one of the most important and formative of my life. My interest in the peace and justice process following the end of the armed conflict and the lives of the Guatemalan people, has only grown since. So I was happy to learn that Guatemalan independent online media groups were in the courtroom with laptops and modems, live-streaming video and audio of tribunal proceedings.
I tuned in as soon as court opened at 8:30 every morning, Guatemala time. And in our shared D.C. office, over a course of weeks, every day Miles and I worked while listening to audio streaming over the internet from that courtroom far away in Guatemala City. The background audio of our workdays included witness testimonies; defense lawyers yelling at the judges; and elderly Ixil Maya women weeping as they re-told the horrors of being raped, and watching their children, brothers, mothers, and grandfathers be killed.
Both of us were trying to do other work at the time, unrelated to this story. But neither of us could turn away, or turn off the audio, even as the stories grew more graphic, more upsetting, more awful with each witness. Imagine the worst possible thing one human being can do to another. Each testimony was like that, but each in a new and seemingly more horrific way than the last.
Screengrab: Juana Sanchez Toma, of San Juan Cotzal, El Quiché, Guatemala. We interviewed her in her dirt-floor home about her experience as a victim of sexual violence committed by Army troops under Ríos Montt's command in Nebaj in 1982.
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).