Rios Montt found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity

Brigadier General José Efraín Rios Montt (center, in headphones) awaits the verdict of his trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Photo:

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."

The 86-year-old former General and head of state was charged with the crimes over a counterinsurgency campaign in 1982-1983 that resulted in the deaths of 1,771 Maya Ixil.

Prosecutors said the Guatemalan Army's campaign against this indigenous ethnic group included the systematic use of rape, burning of crops, torture, infanticide, and forced displacement.

Rios Montt's 17-month rule was the bloodiest phase of Guatemala's 36-year internal armed conflict. Both he and co-defendant Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, his former head of military intelligence, denied all charges against them.

Sanchez was acquitted of all charges Friday.

After the verdict was read, Montt's lawyers tried to usher him from the courtroom, only to see him ordered to remain until police arrived to escort him to jail.

Surrounded by a scrum of reporters and photographers at the defense table, Montt tried to make himself heard above the noise. The press refused to move away from Montt, despite the judge's entreaties. The Ixil sang quietly amid the chaos.

Montt was finally taken into custody at about 5:50 p.m. local time.

Montt had remained mostly silent throughout the proceedings, 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 was never in the Ixil area during this time," said co-defendant Rodriguez Sanchez earlier today. "I am innocent of all charges. I am innocent. I have no guilt."

Separately today in a lower court, Judge Carol Patricial Flores issued a decision reaffirming her earlier mandate that the trial must be suspended. Her ruling, if upheld, would return the proceedings to an earlier point in November, 2011, before any victims testified. The intramural legal conflict between these two courts, and the Constitutional Court—the nation's highest authority—will continue.


Follow proceedings and analysis of the legal battle to follow: NISGUA, Plaza Publica, and the OSJI's trial monitoring account are good places to start. You can follow them and others on this Twitter list. The site is the best source I've found for legal analysis.


Guatemala coverage archives

1983 "MacNeil/Lehrer Report" on debate over military aid

1982 MacNeil/Lehrer on reports Ríos Montt committed atrocities

• "I am innocent," Ríos Montt tells court in genocide trial
Ríos Montt trial enters final phase, 75 years sought
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

Waiting. Snapshots from Ríos Montt genocide trial courtroom