With the events of recent weeks – the May 20 Constitutional Court decision to undo the guilty verdict in the Rios Montt trial and the new trial court’s expressed unavailability until April 2014 – it seems that continued legal proceedings against Rios Montt in the Ixil genocide trial will be in the best of scenarios on hold. However, there have been further developments in connection with another set of charges against former Guatemalan de facto president Efraín Rios Montt.
From 2-5 Eastern time today in Washington, DC, I will be among the moderators at a special event at the New America Foundation, "Genocide in Our Hemisphere: Justice and Reconciliation in Guatemala Beyond the Conviction of General Ríos Montt."
You can watch live online, the event will be streamed here.
Featured speakers at the event include scholars, massacre survivors, and people who were directly involved in the genocide trial of Ríos Montt, which ended with a guilty verdict on May 10, only to be thrown out ten days later in an unprecedented move by Guatemala's Constitutional Court.
On Wednesday, May 29, I will be among the moderators at a very special event in Washington, DC at the New America Foundation, "Genocide in Our Hemisphere: Justice and Reconciliation in Guatemala Beyond the Conviction of General Ríos Montt." Featured speakers at the event include scholars, massacre survivors, and people who were directly involved in the genocide trial of Ríos Montt, which ended with a guilty verdict on May 10, only to be thrown out ten days later in an unprecedented move by Guatemala's Constitutional Court.
Photos: Throughout Latin America, protests demand justice for Guatemala after genocide trial overturned
Protesters in Guatemala and other Latin American countries gathered on Friday to denounce the Guatemalan Constitutional Court's recent decision to overturn the genocide trial and guilty verdict of Ríos Montt. About 1,500 people, mostly indigenous Maya from Guatemala, gathered in Guatemala City. They marched along what posters described as the "Route of Impunity," from the Supreme Court where the ex-General was convicted on May 10 and sentenced to 80 years in jail, to the Constutional Court which threw out the trial ten days later.
Photos from the Guatemala City march below, along with images from Nicaragua, Honduras, and Mexico, which were among the other countries where protests took place. Also below, snapshots from a pro-Ríos Montt protest that took place today in a suburb of Guatemala City: about 15 people gathered to denounce Communism and terrorism, and chant that "In Guatemala, there was no genocide."
Guatemala: protests condemn annulment of Rios Montt trial, while ex-president Portillo extradited to US
In Guatemala City and throughout Latin America today, protests are taking place to condemn the Guatemalan Constitutional Court's decision this week to effectively throw out the trial of Ríos Montt.
On May 10, the former US-backed general was found guilty, and sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. But just ten days later, the historic trial was overturned when the nation's highest court voted 3-2 to uphold complaints put forth by Rios Montt's attorneys.
The protests happen on the same day that another disgraced former Guatemalan president, Alfonso Portillo, is being extradited to the United States where he will face trial in a Manhattan court on US money laundering charges, filed against him in 2010.
The former president is accused of using financial institutions in the United States to launder more than $70 million.
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In Guatemala today, confusion and concern around what will become of the historic trial that found former US-backed military dictator Ríos Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. Just 10 days after that trial ended in an 80-year prison sentence for the former general, the nation's Constitutional Court this week overturned the trial and threw out the verdict. Background here and documents here, in previous Boing Boing posts.
Ríos Montt's attorney Francisco García Gudiel (whom critics in Guatemala sometimes refer to as an "abogangster") says the trial must restart: "You have to cancel the whole process and begin a new trial with new judges."
Without saying it, they threw out everything," plaintiff and human rights attorney Hector Reyes told Reuters. "There is no appeals process for their decision."
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Guatemala: Archive of documents from Rios Montt genocide trial, overturned 10 days after guilty verdict
As reported last night, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala has effectively tossed out the final phase of the genocide trial of José Efraín Rios Montt. The former US-backed military dictator had been sentenced by another Guatemalan high court just 10 days ago to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity, but pressure from the defense team and from the country's deeply conservative oligarchy and ex-military sector led to a historic reversal in what was already a historic trial. It seems likely now that the man who, on May 10, was declared guilty in the deaths of 1,771 Ixil Maya and the mass rapes by Army soldiers of countless indigenous women will be allowed to go free.
What happens with the case here is unclear. Ríos Montt will likely be released today, but many involved with the prosecution (as well as press and international observers) have already fled the country under threats from those who sought to overturn the trial. Justice in Guatemala has a long way to go.
Here are PDF archives of relevant documents in the case, for those who would like to study the courts' rulings and try and understand for themselves.
Late-breaking news from Guatemala City: Impunity reigns in Guatemala tonight.
The Constitutional Court, the highest court in Guatemala (like the US Supreme Court), has just voted to annul the proceedings in the Rios Montt genocide trial from April 19th onward. That was the date on which the trial was temporarily suspended, when defense attorneys initiated a conflict between courts over which judge should oversee the case.
On May 10, Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, and sentenced to 80 years in prison. That verdict and sentence were today thrown out by the Constitutional Court.
Three Constitutional Court judges voted in favor of the annulment. Two voted against. The court today also upheld the not-guilty verdict in the case of Rios Montt's former head of intelligence (the director of the notorious G-2 unit), José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez.
At the Open Society Justice Initiative's riosmontt-trial.org blog, a good synopsis of the post-genocide-trial verdict legal hijinks in Guatemala. Snip:
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.
Related: My reporter's notebook on NewsHour from Guatemala, and a full report on the trial I produced with Miles O'Brien.
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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).