Landmark genocide trial in Guatemala against former military dictator Ríos Montt

April 3, 2013

Former Guatemalan dictator José Efrain Ríos Montt (1982-83) and his then chief of military intelligence, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, are on trial in Guatemala for genocide and crimes against humanity. The charges arise from systematic massacres of the country’s indigenous population carried out by military and paramilitary forces during the country’s brutal civil war. After decades of preparation and advocacy by long-time Hivos partners Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) and the Association of Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), the trial began on March 19, 2013.

The thirty six years of civil war led to the death of approximately 350,000 mostly indigenous peasants from various Maya ethnic groups. Almost 90 percent of the killings can be directly attributed to the military. Tens of thousands of indigenous farmers were forced to either flee into the mountains and jungle or face fierce repression and killing by ruthless armed forces and the Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil (PACs) civilian militias. The latter played an important role in the suppression of the indigenous population and Ríos Montt’s genocidal policy. The conflict came finally to an end in 1996 when a peace agreement was signed thanks to the negotiating efforts of Norway.

Hivos partner the Center for Human Rights Legal Action, a leading Guatemalan NGO, and human rights lawyer Edgar Pérez of the Guatemalan Human Rights Law Office, representing the Association of Justice and Reconciliation (a Guatemala-based organization founded by survivors of Guatemala’s military campaign against indigenous villages), initiated a complaint with the Public Ministry in 2001 seeking the investigation and prosecution of the commanders responsible for the violations committed in 1982 and 1983, the most brutal years of Guatemala’s civil war.

This is the first time a former head of state has been prosecuted for genocide in a national, as opposed to an international, court. The trial is an important milestone in holding political and military leaders accountable for international crimes. Hivos is very proud that this unique landmark trial can be attributed to the ongoing endeavors of our partners CALDH and AJR to search for justice in Guatemala.

For Guatemalans, it is hoped it will also contribute to an accurate historical account of the gross human rights violations committed during the civil war, in a process that will reinforce the country’s young democracy.

You can follow the trial proceedings on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RiosMonttTrial and at the special website set up as a project of the Open Society Justice Initiative for this purpose: http://www.riosmontt-trial.org/. In Spanish: la audiencia en vivo y resumes diarias.