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: Montt Genocide Trial fate rests with Constitutional Court; remains in limbo (photos, video)


Outside Constitutional Court, Guatemala City, a banner displays the names of civilians disappeared or assassinated during Guatemala's 36-yr civil war. Photo: Xeni Jardin


Julia Cortez, former president of the plaintiff organization AJR (Association for Justice and Reconciliation) celebrates Judge Barrios' declaration that no one person has the right to annul the trial. Photo: MiMundo.org.

I've been traveling in Guatemala for the past few weeks, reporting on the genocide trial of former Guatemalan General and genocide and de factor dictator Rios Montt, and his then-head of intelligence Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez. Ríos Montt's 1982-1983 regime was supported by the United States; during this era many thousands of non-combatant civilians were killed.

James Rodriguez, a photojournalist in Guatemala, has been covering the trial and all of the activity that surrounds it. Above and below, two images from a photo essay he published about demonstrations that took place here on Friday:

Despite the trial’s suspension ordered by High Risk Court Judge Carol Flores on the previous day, Judge Jazmin Barrios reconvened the trial on the 21st day to decide on a course of action. Judge Barrios ruled that Judge Flores’ annulment is illegal and will be asking the Constitutional Court, Guatemala’s highest judicial body, to rule on the fate of the genocide trial. Afterwards, a protest march walked from the Supreme Court of Justice to the Constitutional Court.

According to the prosecution team, no trial can be suspended for more than 10 business days. Hence, they expect the CC, highest court in the land, to rule by May 2nd.

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