Success without Victory: Taking the Long View on Justice in Guatemala

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Former military leader Efrain Rios Montt's conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity has been overturned, but there is reason to hope (Photo Credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images).

Former military leader Efrain Rios Montt’s conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity has been overturned, but there is reason to hope (Photo Credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images).

Update: This post was updated on May 23, 2013 to provide more context for the significance of the overturned conviction of Rios Montt.

Amnesty International joined human rights organizations from Guatemala and all around the world in applauding former Guatemalan Dictator Rios Montt’s historic conviction on charges of genocide on May 10. The trial established his responsibility as intellectual author for the murder of 1,771 Ixil indigenous people and the forced displacement of tens of thousands from the Ixil triangle region of southern Quiché Department.

It took over thirty years to bring Rios Montt to justice. The trial faced numerous delays and obstacles, including many procedural appeals and challenges by the defense and a ten day suspension of the trial in April during which an annulment of the proceedings by a lower court was resolved.

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Rios Montt Trial is Reason to Celebrate at AGM!

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Relatives of victims of Guatemala's civil war attend the trial against former Guatemalan de facto President and retired General Jose Efrain Rios Montt  for genocide during his de facto 1982-83 regime. Rios Montt is accused of ordering the execution of 1,771 members of the indigenous Ixil Maya people in the Quiche region. The trial marks the first time genocide proceedings have been brought in relation to the 36-year civil war in Guatemala that ended in 1996, leaving an estimated 200,000 people dead, according to United Nations estimates (Photo Credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images).

Relatives of victims of Guatemala’s civil war attend the trial against Rios Montt for genocide during his de facto 1982-83 regime (Photo Credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images).

Tuesday, March 19 marks the beginning of the trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Rios Montt for the deaths of 1,771 individuals and the forced displacement of tens of thousands more from the Ixil triangle region of southern Quiché department.

It is important to remember that the crimes covered in this trial are only a fraction of the widespread, systematic human rights abuses that the Guatemalan military committed under Rios Montt’s brief reign in 1982 and 1983. The military massacred or disappeared tens of thousands of Guatemalan civilians in the months following the coup that brought Rios Montt to power. Furthermore, the Commission on Historical Clarification (CEH) blamed the Guatemalan government for acts of genocide because:

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Why Do We Need to Keep Up the Pressure to Prosecute Rios Montt for Genocide?

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Brigadier General José Efraín Rios Montt, flanked by General Horacio Egberto Maldonado Schaad and Colonel Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, at first press conference on 23 March 1982, National Palace, Guatemala City.

Brigadier General José Efraín Rios Montt, flanked by General Horacio Egberto Maldonado Schaad and Colonel Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, at first press conference on 23 March 1982, National Palace, Guatemala City. Photo courtesy of Jean-Marie Simon.

Monday’s ruling that General Efraín Ríos Montt and his former head of military intelligence, General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, should stand trial for the massacre of almost 2,000 people in the 1980s is an encouraging sign in the quest for justice and accountability in Guatemala. But we must keep up our vigilance to make sure justice moves forward!

A little over a month after I wrote a post on this blog about the need to bring Rios Montt to justice, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina—a former general who served under Rios Montt—issued a decree that said the State of Guatemala would no longer recognize the competence of the Inter American Court of Human Right’s rulings regarding crimes that took place before 1987.  The decree was published on December 28, 2012 – over the holidays when most people are out of their offices.

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Justice Denied for 30 Years: Six Reasons Guatemala Must Bring Rios Montt to Justice!

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As our families come together for Thanksgiving, please remember of the countless Guatemalans who have never learned the truth about what happened to their loved ones.

November 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of General Efrain Rios Montt launching the bloodiest period of Guatemala’s civil war after seizing power in a coup.  The victims and their families are still waiting for justice.  Thankfully, some of them are finally getting their day in court as Rios Montt stands accused in the Dos Erres Massacre of 1982.

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