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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."

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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."

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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.


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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."

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.

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.

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.

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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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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).


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Guatemala: Genocide trial starts then stops; State of Siege near US/Canadian mine continues

Photo: James Rodriguez, a US-Mexican documentary photographer based in Guatemala since 2006, traveled to the State of Siege zone to document the conditions last week in Jalapa and Santa Rosa Guatemala.

A brief update from Guatemala:

The tribunal of General Jose Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala from 1982-1983, and Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, his former chief of military intelligence, reconvened this morning after a 5-day suspension. The defendants are on trial in Guatemala City for genocide and crimes against humanity. As Jo-Marie Burt at the OSIJ's blog explained in their most recent analysis, "Responding to the most recent ruling by the Court of Appeals will likely be the first order of business."

I am publishing this post from inside the courtroom, which was less than half full today—there was much confusion over the last 48 hours about whether the trial could be suspended entirely. Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez showed up this morning without attorney Garcia Gudiel, who literally called in sick. Judge Yassmin Barrios briefly responseded to an array of recent court rulings, said "There is no annulment of the trial," then suspended the trial for the day. She indicated to Rios Montt that if Gudiel remains unavailable, he may call back his previous defense team, who walked out of the courtroom in protest on Apr 19.

No one is entirely sure what will happen tomorrow.

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Guatemala: "An attempt to decimate the future," Ixil testimony at genocide trial

Skylight Pictures, the team behind "Granito: How to Nail a Dictator," and "When the Mountains Tremble," have been here in Guatemala observing and documenting the historic genocide trial against former dictator General Jose Efraín Rios Montt.

Here is Episode #10 of their ongoing series of web updates from the trial, "An Attempt to Decimate the Future." In this episode, a Maya Ixil woman testifies before the court about sexual violence she survived. In the audience, women cover their heads in solidarity. The woman displaying this incredible act of courage was one of 98 Ixil survivors, men and women, who testified as criminal witnesses in the trial. Proceedings are due to resume tomorrow after several weeks of legal wrangling between lawyers for the defense and various Guatemalan courts.

View more of Skylight's "Dictator in the Dock" series here.

Below, two additional recent episodes from the series.

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Guatemala: Rios Montt genocide trial resumes amid legal uncertainty, polarized political climate

Ixil witnesses inside the courtroom, Tue. Apr. 30, 2013. At center, Maria Sajiq of Nebaj, Quiché, Guatemala. Ms. Sajiq was among the survivors Miles O'Brien and I interviewed in Nebaj recently, for a forthcoming PBS NewsHour report. (Photo: Xeni Jardin)

I am blogging from inside the Supreme Court of Guatemala, where Judge Jazmin Barrios has just re-started the genocide trial of Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez after a two-week suspension, during which a series of obscure legal battles took place.

As Amy Ross at the OSIJ's blog accurately explains, the historic trial reconvenes "in an environment of complex legal challenges, powerful political forces, and intense emotions."

Listen to a live audio stream of today's proceedings here.

My live-tweets from the courtroom are below.

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Guatemala: Genocide trial may soon restart; Obama to meet with Central American leaders

PHOTO: James Rodríguez/ "Protest demanding continuation of Genocide trial aganst Rios Montt."

A brief Saturday update from Guatemala, where the genocide trial of former US-backed military dictator Rios Montt and his head of military intelligence Rodriguez Sanchez has been on hold after a series of legal actions involving various Guatemalan courts.

In case you're just catching up: here's the previous installment in our series about a march Friday that honored slain bishop and human rights defender Juan Gerardi.

The sense here today is that the trial could possibly reconvene next week, following Friday's hearing by Judge Carol Patricia Flores involving one set of disputed procedural details. But whether or when the trial will resume is not clear just yet.

Independent Guatemalan online news organization Plaza Publica has an explainer of Friday's proceedings here (Spanish).

And from the Open Society Justice Initiative's update (English):

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