Guatemala: Archive of documents from Rios Montt genocide trial, overturned 10 days after guilty verdict

May 9, 2013: A public art project in Guatemala City, one block from the courth where Rios Montt was convicted on May 10. "Si hubo genocidio," the sign reads. "Yes, it was genocide." Photo: Xeni Jardin.

As reported last night, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala has effectively tossed out the final phase of the genocide trial of José Efraín Rios Montt. The former US-backed military dictator had been sentenced by another Guatemalan high court just 10 days ago to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity, but pressure from the defense team and from the country's deeply conservative oligarchy and ex-military sector led to a historic reversal in what was already a historic trial. It seems likely now that the man who, on May 10, was declared guilty in the deaths of 1,771 Ixil Maya and the mass rapes by Army soldiers of countless indigenous women will be allowed to go free.

What happens with the case here is unclear. Ríos Montt will likely be released today, but many involved with the prosecution (as well as press and international observers) have already fled the country under threats from those who sought to overturn the trial. Justice in Guatemala has a long way to go.

Here are PDF archives of relevant documents in the case, for those who would like to study the courts' rulings and try and understand for themselves.

First, the original verdict and sentence ruling from the court of Judge Yassmin Barrios, which is more than 700 pages long.
Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. (thanks, Romina)

And here is a PDF of the Constitutional Court's May 20 ruling, overturning the trial from April 18 onward, and throwing out the verdict and sentence. (via

Related reporting about the CC's annulment: Plaza Publica, New York Times.

From a detailed post offering legal analysis, by Emi MacLean at the Open Society Justice Initiative:

The Constitutional Court, in its judgment on Monday, overturned the verdict and annulled the final days of the trial—sending the trial back to where it was on April 19. (On April 19, the tribunal had heard all prosecution witnesses, but still awaited the presentation of some of the defense witnesses, closing arguments and, of course, the final verdict and sentence.) The Constitutional Court also ordered the official suspension of the trial pending the full resolution of certain legal challenges raised by the defense.

At least for now, the Constitutional Court ordered that the same trial court – Presiding Judge Yassmin Barrios and her associates Pablo Xitumul and Patricia Bustamante – reconvene to consider the case. It gave the tribunal 24 hours to comply "exactly" with these orders or risk dismissal from their posts and the possibility of civil or criminal sanction. In its judgment, the Constitutional Court did not acknowledge explicitly that the trial had already completed, concluding with a conviction.

The decision stemmed from a constitutional challenge (amparo) raised by Rios Montt's defense attorneys at the very end of the trial. In response to an earlier challenge, both the Constitutional Court and a Guatemalan appeals court ordered the trial court to remedy a due process violation from the opening day of the trial—the expulsion of Rios Montt's newly-appointed defense attorney on the middle of that first day, leaving him represented only by the attorney for his co-accused for several hours, until his prior defense attorneys returned to his side on the morning of the second day. (See below for more information.)

In the challenge at issue in Monday's Constitutional Court judgment overturning the verdict, Rios Montt asserted that the trial court had not in fact complied with the orders of the appeals court concerning this due process violation, even though the appeals court had recognized the trial court as having fully complied, in a judgment issued by the appeals court just the day before the release of the verdict. (Rios Montt's challenge was, in effect, a challenge to the appeals court's finding that the trial court implemented fully the appellate court's order.)

Ríos Montt, inside the courtroom during the trial that charged him with genocide and crimes against humanity. Photo: Xeni Jardin.