Washington, D.C.—Today the trial of General Efraín Ríos Montt—the former Guatemalan dictator accused of genocide and crimes against humanity—begins in Guatemala City. The trial is an important advance for victims of the internal armed conflict, as well as for the rule of law in Guatemala, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), which is closely following the trial.
“This trial is a historic step forward for justice and the rule and law in Guatemala,” said Geoff Thale, WOLA’s Program Director, who will be present at the start of the trial. “The opening of the trial, 30 years after the end of Ríos Montt’s regime, is a victory for victims and their families.”
The internal armed conflict in Guatemala left 200,000 dead and between 40,000 and 50,000 disappeared, according to the final report of Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission. During his regime, General Ríos Montt oversaw a scorched-earth campaign that resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, and his 17 months in power were among the most violent of the 36-year war. Among other charges, General Ríos Montt is accused of orchestrating the massacre of more than 1,750 indigenous Ixil Mayans in the Guatemalan department of Quiché.
“Our expectation is that this trial will be carried out impartially and that the judiciary’s independence will be respected,” said Jo-Marie Burt, a WOLA Senior Fellow. “The government should guarantee the security of the witnesses, victims, lawyers, prosecutors, and judges.”
The judicial process began in January 2012, when General Ríos Montt lost the immunity that he had enjoyed as a member of Congress; the trial has gone forward in spite of a request for amnesty (which was denied on March 12, 2013) and the opposition of influential groups in the country. Ríos Montt is the first former president to be tried for genocide.
“Latin America has made important strides in holding those responsible for crimes against humanity to account,” said Burt. “Guatemala joins Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile among the nations that are taking seriously their international obligations to prosecute and punish these horrendous crimes, which is essential to ensuring that they never happen again.”
WOLA Senior Fellow
Para que se conozca: Analysis of the trial in Spanish, hosted by the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos, CALDH).
The Trial of Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez: Analysis of the trial in English, sponsored by the Open Society Justice Initiative.
“La verdad, la justicia y la reparación deben prevalecer en el juicio por genocidio en Guatemala”: Letter from international organizations calling for adequate due process.
Transitional Justice: Handbook for Latin America: Book containing article by Jo-Marie Burt, WOLA Senior Fellow, on the significance of human rights trials in Latin America.