Washington, DC—Today WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America) joins with nine other local and international human rights organizations in submitting an amicus curiae brief, which calls for the separation of the current court proceedings against two alleged architects of genocide during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. The genocide retrial began on March 16 behind closed doors after the trial court determined that one of the defendants, former dictator José Efráin Ríos Montt, suffered from dementia. Plaintiffs argue that the proceedings against co-defendant José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, Ríos Montt’s intelligence chief, should be separated so that they can take place in open court to which the public and press have access. The brief comes just as a local court will hear arguments on May 5 over whether Rodríguez Sánchez should be tried in separate, public hearing.
“This trial needs to be held in full view of the victims in the case, the Guatemalan public, and the international community,” said WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt, an international observer who has followed the genocide trial since proceedings first began in 2013. “Allowing the public and the press to observe the trial will ensure access to justice for the victims, who have suffered through years of false starts and uncertainty.”
Ríos Montt was found guilty of genocide against the Maya Ixil community in 2013—and Rodríguez Sanchez was acquitted in the same ruling—but Guatemala’s Constitutional Court invalidated the sentences just ten days later. Although a retrial is currently underway, judges have ruled that the former dictator is mentally incompetent, meaning that the case will be conducted under closed-door proceedings.
The amicus brief submitted today demonstrates how, even if Ríos Montt is tried in the absence of the press and general public due to his condition, international laws and legal norms dictate that Rodríguez Sanchez’s trial should be separated and conducted openly and before the public. As the brief indicates, doing so would fulfill Guatemala’s international obligations to guarantee public access to truth, justice, and information regarding past human rights atrocities.
“Given the historic nature of this emblematic case, allowing the public access to the proceedings will also ensure that the conduct of the court can be monitored,” said WOLA’s Jo-Marie Burt.
In addition to WOLA, the brief was filed by Lawyers Without Borders Canada – Guatemala, The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), Human Rights First, Impunity Watch, the International Platform against Impunity, the Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law, the War Crimes Research Office at American University Washington College of Law, and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.