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:
• Lisa Laplante of the Open Society Justice Initiative's riosmontt-trial.org blog posts her analysis here. It's technical reading, but there's no better way to understand such a complex and opaque legal process.
• NISGUA, the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala, posts their update here.
At the time of this blog post, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala has not yet ruled on the legality of Judge Flores' decision or the potential annulment of the entire trial. It is possible they will make such a decision today.
Related: US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen J. Rapp is in Guatemala today through April 26 (coincidentally, the anniversary of the assassination of human rights defender Monsignor Juan José Gerardi Conedera), to "attend meetings and consultations related to the trial of José Efraín Ríos Montt."
Here's a Twitter list I created of people who are doing live coverage around the trial here in Guatemala.