Guatemala video snapshot: Youth protest in Supreme Court during genocide trial

A little iPhone video snapshot I shot during the trial in Guatemala of US-backed military dictator Rios Montt and his then-intelligence chief, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez.

Ríos Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez are accused of being responsible for the Guatemalan Army's mass killings of more than 1,700 Ixil Maya civilians, systematic rape, and forced displacement.

On April 18, just after the court adjourned, I was walking out of the Supreme Court building when I heard a group shouting "Justice! Justice!"—I walked into the center of the building and saw this group of young people holding signs that said, "So that history will never repeat," and "We young people deserve to know the truth."

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Guatemala: Confusion follows Constitutional Court rulings; will Montt genocide trial proceed?

Photo: mimundo.org/James Rodriguez. Ixil Maya women demonstrate in support of the continuation of the trial, outside the Supreme Court of Guatemala.

A quick update from Guatemala, where I've been covering the historic tribunal of Jose Efrain Rios Montt, US-backed military dictator of Guatemala during 1982 and 1983, and Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, his then chief of military intelligence. They are on trial in Guatemala City for genocide and crimes against humanity, over charges their regime systematically massacred the country’s indigenous population, and caused mass forced displacement.

This is the first time in modern history that a former head of state has been prosecuted for genocide in a national, as opposed to an international, court.

Last week, the historic trial in the nation's Supreme Court was put on hold when a lower court judge effectively upheld an appeal by the defense to block the trial on procedural grounds. Confusion, concern, and protests by both sides followed.

Yesterday, the nation's Constitutional Court issued a series of provisional rulings that seemed to only deepen that confusion. Today, an appeals court hearing is being held unexpectedly moved to the Guatemalan Supreme Court due to large public turnout, says NISGUA. "Defense lawyers are present without Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez. FAMDEGUA (Asociación de Familiares de Desaparecidos de Guatemala) joins prosecution team in this hearing to resolve appeal."

The case is in limbo while various court authorities and legal teams battle it out. For a breakdown of the legal details:

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Guatemala genocide trial status in limbo as legal power struggle continues

VIDEO: Relatives of people killed during Guatemala's armed conflict hold up a banner with the names of the dead, during a protest on April 22, 2013 outside the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City. (Xeni Jardin for Boing Boing)

Kate Doyle of the National Security Archive and the Open Society Justice Initiative's riosmontt-trial.org has the most accurate summary I've found of today's confusing and widely mis-reported legal developments in the Guatemala genocide trial of General Rios Montt and former head of intelligence Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez:

Today the Constitutional Court sowed chaos and confusion in a trial that last Friday (April 19) was probably two or three days away from its conclusion. The only steps remaining were hearing the testimony of whatever remaining witnesses the defense could muster, and hearing the closing arguments of prosecution and defense lawyers.

It is impossible to summarize accurately what happened without having access to the Constitutional Court (CC) decision. (It should be available tonight.) The first press conference held by the CC today was so incoherent that the press complained and they had to convene a second one. Two important things will happen tomorrow that will help clarify matters: CALDH will hold a press conference at 10am to explain how they plan to respond to the latest developments, and the Attorney General’s office will make some kind of statement to the same effect.

Meanwhile what I understand from reading the press, Twitter posts, messages from the new OSJI monitor Lisa Laplante, and emails from some of the stakeholders is the following:

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Guatemala: Rios Montt genocide trial, day 18. "If I can't control the Army, then what am I doing here?"

Rios Montt listens to a prosecution witness, during the tribunal.

I am blogging from inside the Supreme Court in Guatemala City, where the trial of former Guatemalan Army General and US-backed dictator Guatemalan José Efrain Rios Montt and his then chief of intelligence Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez has reconvened for the 18th day. Here's a good recap of Monday's proceedings, and here's another.

For the past two weeks, I have been here in Guatemala with Miles O'Brien, observing the trial in court and interviewing people involved in the story for a forthcoming report on PBS NewsHour. We have interviewed Rios Montt's daughter, Zury Rios, who is her father's most diligent defender. We have interviewed scientists whose work is entered as evidence in the trial. We traveled to the Ixil area where the conflict at the center of this trial took place, and we interviewed Ixil Maya survivors about their experiences in the US-backed counterinsurgency attacks. We interviewed government officials who worked closely with Ríos Montt, who believe that what happened was not genocide, but the unfortunate collateral damage of a just war against "International Communism."

As covered in previous Boing Boing posts, the past few weeks of the trial have included personal testimonies from dozens of Ixil Maya survivors of mass killings, rapes, torture, forced adoption, and displacement. More than two dozen forensic anthropologists from the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) have testified about human remains exhumed and analyzed from mass graves. Many other expert witnesses, or "peritos," have testified: among them, Patrick Ball of hrdag.org, who analyzed data of deaths during the armed conflict, to help judges make their decision about whether the mass killings constituted a focused attack by the Guatemalan Army, led by Ríos Montt, against the Ixil Maya ethnic group.

In other words: Was this genocide?

Not according to "The Foundation Against Terrorism," which published a 20-page paid newspaper supplement over the weekend here in Guatemala. "The Farce of Genocide in Guatemala: a conspiracy perpetrated by the Marxists with the Catholic Church." It's an interesting read.

The 18th day of the tribunal began this morning with defense witnesses for Ríos Montt and Sanchez.

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Trial of Byron Sonne, security researcher jailed for publicizing flaws in Toronto G20 security

Back in May, I linked to the perverse tale of Byron Sonne, a Toronto hacker and security researcher who was caught up in the G20 dragnet, part of the overall campaign of illegal harassment, arrest and violence against protesters in the city.

Sonne's trial is underway now, and Denise Balkissoon is covering it in depth for OpenFile.ca. Balkissoon's coverage cuts through the legal complexities and tedium and gets right to the point, and is as good as courtroom reporting gets.

This week, the Crown conceded that Toronto Police used a ruse in order to get Byron Sonne to hand over his ID on June 15, 2010. Sonne—otherwise known as the G20 Hacker, or the Anarchist of Forest Hill—had been filming the $9.4 million security fence that went up before the international summit. A security guard called the police, and three officers stopped Sonne as he walked along Temperance St.

One asked for his identification. Sonne refused, stating that he knew it was his right not to identify himself unless he was being detained for a specific crime. So, bicycle officer Michael Wong told Sonne that he was being investigated for jaywalking under the Highway Traffic Act. “This was simply a ruse employed to obtain the Applicant’s identification,” reads the statement of fact submitted by the Crown Attorney. “It worked.”

In Sonne’s preliminary trial last winter, all three officers agreed that none of them had actually seen him cross the street illegally. On November 10, Superior Court Justice Nancy Spies decided this ruse meant Sonne was unlawfully detained, and that his rights were violated under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Next week, Judge Spies will decide if the Toronto Police also violated his rights when searching his home, seizing his possessions, or questioning him for 12 hours without access to a lawyer. Then begins his trial for possessing explosive materials and “counseling the indictable offense of mischief not committed.” I’ll explain that one to you when the trial gets started.

The ruse that violated Byron Sonne's rights