Guatemala awaits Constitutional Court rulings, defense continues legal challenges to genocide trial

Jose Efraín Ríos Montt, moments after being declared guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity in a Guatemala City court, May 10 2013. Photo: James Rodriguez.

At the Open Society Justice Initiative's blog, a good synopsis of the post-genocide-trial verdict legal hijinks in Guatemala. Snip:

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Victoria Sanford: "It’s Too Soon to Declare Victory in Guatemalan Genocide"

It’s too soon to declare victory in Guatemala, writes anthropologist Victoria Sanford in a New York Times op-ed today. "There is serious evidence that the current president, the former military commander Otto Pérez Molina, who took office in January 2012, may have been involved in the same mass killings for which General Ríos Montt has now been convicted." And, what's more: rumors circulating in Guatemala today that the Constitutional Court, the nation's highest legal body, may throw out the verdict. News is expected Wednesday mid-day Guatemala time. Read the rest

Xeni on PBS NewsHour, in Guatemala: Ríos Montt genocide verdict and aftermath

Before leaving Guatemala today, I spoke with PBS NewsHour host 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.

The report is archived here on YouTube, and here on the PBS NewsHour website with a full transcript, also below.

Related: My reporter's notebook on NewsHour from Guatemala, and a full report on the trial I produced with Miles O'Brien. Read the rest

Xeni on PBS NewsHour tonight: Guatemala genocide verdict, aftermath, significance for the future

Xeni live-blogging from the court in Guatemala City where Rios Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in an historic trial. Photo: James Rodriguez,

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.

Tune in live here. The report will be archived here on YouTube, and here on the PBS NewsHour website. Read the rest

Guatemala: Judges rule on reparations; no land to be returned to Ixil victims

An Ixil woman in the genocide tribunal courtroom, one hour before the guilty verdict was handed down in the trial of Rios Montt. Photo: Xeni Jardin.

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

Guatemala: Rios Montt supporters protest; court considers reparations for genocide victims

Photo: James Rodriguez/ View his full photo-essay here.

[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.

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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." Read the rest

Guatemala: Waiting. Snapshots from Ríos Montt genocide trial courtroom, verdict imminent

Photo: Xeni Jardin

[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.

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Guatemala: 1982 MacNeil/Lehrer on reports Ríos Montt committed atrocities against Ixil Maya

[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

Guatemala: 1983 "MacNeil/Lehrer Report" on debate over military aid to Ríos Montt's regime

From the archives of the program that became PBS NewsHour, an archival episode from 1982 during the military dictatorship of José Efraín Ríos Montt. In this episode, Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer report on political battles in Washington over the Reagan administration's funding and military aid to Guatemala, as violence and instability there continued and reports of atrocities in indigenous communities spread.

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.

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Guatemala: Likely sentence today in Ríos Montt genocide trial

Photo: Former de facto head of state Efrain Rios Montt takes the stand, speaking in his defense for the first time since the trial began on March 19, 2013. Photo: James Rodriguez,

Greetings from the court in Guatemala City, where the trial of US-backed military dictator Efrain Rios Montt may today reach its conclusion. A verdict (and if guilty, a sentence) is expected to come at 4pm local time, when the court of Judge Yassmin Barrios is scheduled to reconvene.

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.

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Guatemala: "I am innocent," Ríos Montt tells court in genocide trial, breaking silence

Photo: A still from iPhone video of Ríos Montt speaking, in his defense, for the first time on Thursday May 9, 2013, in Guatemala City. (Xeni Jardin)

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."

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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. Read the rest

Guatemala: The science behind historic genocide trial of General Ríos Montt (video report)

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.

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Guatemalan Government declares State of Siege after Mining Protests: video report

For PBS NewsHour, I spoke with Miles O'Brien from inside the "State of Siege" zone, where the government has declared a state of military occupation in response to protests over a US/Canadian-owned mine. Today, debate continues between Congress, the Constitutional Court, and the administration of President Otto Perez Molina, over whether the State of Siege will be ratified and continue for the entire month declared, or if it will be ended over charges that it is unconstitutional and an act of repression against civil protests.

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: Genocide trial starts then stops; State of Siege near US ... Guatemala: state of siege declared as Army, police crack down after ... Guatemala: "San Rafael Mine State of Siege," photo-essay by ...

Setting up for the PBS NewsHour cross-talk with Miles at the Army/police checkpoint in Casillas, the first stop in the state of siege zone, as you enter from Guatemala City. Photo and video: Esteban Castaño of Skylight Pictures. Read the rest

Guatemala: Why We Cannot Turn Away

José Ceto Cabo, an Ixil civil war survivor who runs a small NGO that aids fellow Ixil survivors, leads Miles and Xeni to a clandestine grave from the armed conflict war. Photo by Xeni Jardin.

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. Read the rest

Guatemala: PBS NewsHour report on Ríos Montt genocide trial, from Miles O'Brien and Xeni Jardin

Watch PBS NewsHour tonight (Wednesday, May 8, 2013) for a report that science correspondent Miles O'Brien and I produced from Guatemala on the role forensic science plays in the genocide trial of José Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez.

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.

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