UPDATE: On May 29, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court upheld its May 20 decision overturning former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt’s conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity. The Constitutional Court secretary, Martín Guzmán, said the trial needed to go back to where it stood on April 19 to resolve appeal issues. In response to the court’s decision, 1,500 Indigenous Maya gathered in Guatemala City to march in protest. Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchú Tum released an open letter regarding the Constitutional Court’s decision. The Nobel Women’s Initiative will continue monitoring the situation in Guatemala as the court of appeals designates or constitutes a new tribunal to re-hear the case.
On May 10, 2013 former dictator of Guatemala Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide of 1,771 Ixil Maya and crimes against humanity committed during his 1982-1983 rule.
Ríos Montt was sentenced to a total of 80 years in prison and immediately transferred to Matamoros Prison. Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, his former head of intelligence and co-accused, was acquitted of charges.
After Judge Yassmin Barrios read a summary of the extensive crimes – including forced displacement, sexual violence and torture – the sentence was announced, and the courtroom filled with the cheers of survivors and human rights defenders. Judge Barrios stated that Ríos Montt possessed “full knowledge of what was happening and did nothing to stop it—having the knowledge of the events, and the power and the capacity to do so.”
As part of the reparation requirements, the judges ordered personal apologies made to the survivors of sexual violence. The Ríos Montt case marked the first time wartime rape was tried as a crime in a domestic court more than 15 years after the end of the conflict.
Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchú Tum has been present in the courtroom through the trial. “This is a very delicate moment in Guatemala. The most important thing is not to take a step backwards,” she said in an interview with Democracy Now!
As Menchú Tum points out, the struggle for justice is not over. Human rights defenders in Guatemala are still at risk and will continue their work for survivors of the civil war, in addition to demanding that the verdict be respected.
Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchú Hails Genocide Conviction of Ex-Guatemalan Dictator Ríos Montt, Democracy Now! 15 May 2013.
Guatemala: Rios Montt genocide trial ends with historic verdict, Al Jazeera, 15 May 2013.
Rios Montt Convicted of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity: The Sentence and Its Aftermath, Open Society Justice Initiative, 13 May 2013.
Guatemala’s Rios Montt guilty of genocide, CNN, 13 May 2013.