Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Guatemala: Justice on trial in Guatemala: The Ríos Montt Case

Source: International Crisis Group

Ensuring a prompt and fair retrial of former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt is crucial to finally bringing justice to victims of the armed conflict and to reconciling a fragile democracy with its citizens.

In its latest report, Justice on Trial in Guatemala: The Ríos Montt Case, the International Crisis Group examines the trial against General and ex-President José Efraín Ríos Montt and related broader issues of the country’s legal system. Never before has a former head of state been prosecuted for genocide in his own country’s courts. The outcome of this historic case remains up in the air. Just ten days after the trial court convicted Ríos Montt in May, the Constitutional Court annulled the verdict. A new trial could revive hopes Guatemala is capable of providing justice for the victims of a brutal armed conflict and fending off current threats to judicial independence and the rule of law.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
  • The abrupt annulment of the verdict raised questions of outside interference, particularly from powerful economic and political interests. Judicial authorities must now expedite a new trial and continue to prosecute others responsible for massive human rights violations during the armed conflict.
  • The trial exposed serious flaws in the judicial system. Petitions for constitutional protection, known as amparos, continue to be misused to delay final verdicts. The judiciary must ensure their correct use and reject motions that serve only to obstruct trials.
  • The government should support the attorney general as well as the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in their investigation of human rights violations and criminal conspiracies.
  • The government needs to depoliticise the selection process for a new Supreme Court and judges of other appellate tribunals, as well as for re-nominating or choosing a successor for the attorney general. Urgent steps must be taken to ensure that the process is both transparent and inclusive, reflecting the diversity of Guatemala’s population, not just the interests of the wealthy and politically powerful.
“The indigenous Maya people, who were massacred and otherwise victimised in large numbers, have waited 30 years for justice. The outcome of this case will send a strong message about rule of law under Guatemala’s still fragile democracy”, says Mary Speck, Crisis Group’s Senior Guatemala Analyst.
“The Ríos Montt trial is an historic attempt to establish high-level, individual responsibility for some of the most serious human rights violations ever committed in Latin America”, says Louise Arbour, Crisis Group’s President. “Its adequate development would show the world and, most importantly, Guatemala’s own citizens that the country’s political leaders and courts are capable of guaranteeing that the rule of law protects all, including the most vulnerable, and holds all equally accountable, including the most powerful”.