The trial of Guatemala’s former military ruler, José Efraín Ríos Montt, due to start on January 11, will be a major test for the country’s justice system and a huge opportunity for Guatemala to show it is committed to human rights, said Amnesty International today.
“Tens of thousands of Guatemalans who fell victim to the heinous crimes committed under Ríos Montt’s rule have been waiting three decades to see justice done – they must not be forced to wait one second longer,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“The Guatemalan ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ approach when it comes to dealing with the hundreds of thousands of cases of torture, killings and disappearances that took place during the country’s civil war is shameful and illegal. The only deterrent to the perpetrators of crimes like these is the clear knowledge that they will face justice and the full might of the law.”
Efraín Ríos Montt is charged with crimes against humanity and genocide in relation to the killing and torture of 1,771 Mayan-Ixil Indigenous people and the forced displacement of tens of thousands when he was president and commander-in-chief of the Guatemalan Army between 1982 and 1983.
Ríos Montt will be represented by a third party in the special closed-door criminal proceedings that will begin on Monday. The court is not empowered to hand down a prison sentence, owing to the 89-year-old defendant’s poor health.
A 2013 conviction against Rios Montt was overturned by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ten days after it was issued on procedural issues.
A UN-backed truth commission found that some 200,000 people were killed or disappeared during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war (1960-1996). More than 80 percent were Indigenous Maya.