The Guatemalan Constitutional Court overturned the 80 year-prison sentence for genocide against former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt to bring the trial back to April 19th. The ruling also affected the acquittal of Jose Rodriguez Sanchez, former head of intelligence under Rios Montt.
In a three to two ruling the Court admitted the appeals filed by Rios Montt’s defense against the ruling of judge Jazmin Barrios. The justices who voted against the appeal claim that the Constitutional Court went too far by overturning the proceedings, and that the judges supporting this decision questioned the Tribunal’s impartiality.
The trial began on March 19 and ended on May 10. On April 18 the hearings were suspended because of “legal irregularities”. The judges were accused of being partial. However, despite the suspension of the trial was ordered, Barrios decided to resume the proceedings on April 30.
Rios Montt, who was in power in Guatemala from March 1982 to August of 1983, was found guilty of “massacres, torture, sexual abuse, forced displacement and the massive murder of Ixil people”, according to the court’s ruling read by Barrios. Rodriguez Sanchez was acquitted because the Tribunal considered it had no role in the military operations against the indigenous.
“Rios Montt knew” about the 15 massacres “and he was totally aware of what was going on and did nothing to stop it”, added Barrios, according to Argentinean newspaper Marcha. He was then sentenced to 80 years in prison: 50 years for charges of massacre and 30 years for crimes against humanity. Rios Montt was responsible for one of the worst periods of the war in Guatemala between insurgents and the government from 1960 to 1996.
The Attorney General’s office had accused Rios Montt and Rodriguez for their roles in the command chain of the Guatemalan army in the deaths of 1,771 Mayan Ixil indigenous in 15 massacres committed in communities in Quiche department. The murders took place under Rios Mont’s regime.
The Attorney General had demanded a 75-year prison against the two military men on May 9 and two organizations that acted as plaintiffs, the Centre for Legal and Human Rights Action and the Association for Justice and Reconciliation joined the request after submitting their own conclusions.
Rios Montt will preemptively remain in prison until the Tribunal resumes the proceedings. However, the defense of the former dictator has requested a Court of Appeals to dismiss the case before that Tribunal and to create a “special court” to determine whether he can file for amnesty for the crimes he is charged with under the National Reconciliation Law.
“No queremos ser mártires, no queremos que hayan más mártires en este país, pero también hay una responsabilidad histórica de hacer valer la palabra y demostrar que tenemos derecho a la construcción de un mundo mejor. Y no podemos huir a esa responsabilidad”, dijo a Radio Mundo Real la dirigente garífuna Miriam Miranda, coordinadora de la Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH).
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