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.

The 86-year-old former General and head of state is charged with genocide, and crimes against humanity, for a counterinsurgency campaign during his 17-month rule in 1982-1983 that resulted in the deaths of 1,771 Maya Ixil. Prosecutors say the Guatemalan Army's campaign against this indigenous ethnic group included the systematic use of rape, burning of crops, torture, infanticide, and forced displacement—all taking place against the backdrop of the country's 36-year internal armed conflict. Ríos Montt and co-defendant Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, his former head of military intelligence, deny the charges.

Montt remained mostly silent throughout the trial, which opened on March 19, 2013. Yesterday, however, he asked to speak in his own defense for the first time and gave a declaration that lasted 55 minutes.

"I am innocent," he told the packed courtroom. "I never had the intent to destroy any national ethnic group."

I am blogging from inside the court. Co-defendant Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, who is wheelchair-bound, was moved by armed guards to the witness stand, where he declared his innocence.

"I was never in the Ixil area during this time," Rodriguez Sanchez said. "I am innocent of all charges. I am innocent. I have no guilt."


Coverage of yesterday's events:

A photo-essay by Guatemala-based James Rodriguez

NISGUA: "Concluding arguments, "You cannot deny the undeniable"

NISGUA: Benjamin Jerónimo: "I supplicate you to do justice… so the survivors can feel peace"

Legal analysis at the Open Society Justice Initiative's blog.

Follow the proceedings with live-tweets from the courtroom by NISGUA, Plaza Publica, and the OSIJ's trial monitoring account.

You can also follow them and others on this Twitter list I made.

Watch live video feed here or listen to live audio feed here.


• "I am innocent," Ríos Montt tells court in genocide trial, breaking silence
Ríos Montt trial enters final phase, 75 years sought for genocide, crimes against humanity

Guatemala coverage archives
The science behind historic genocide trial of General Ríos Montt: PBS NewsHour video report
Guatemalan Government declares State of Siege after Mining Protests: PBS NewsHour video report
PBS NewsHour reporter's notebook: Guatemala—Why We Cannot Turn Away