(Washington, DC) — Amnesty International said today that General Efraín Ríos Montt and his former head of military intelligence, General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, standing trial for the massacre of almost two thousand people in the 1980s is a crucial step towards justice, truth and reparation.
Ríos Montt, who held power from March 1982 to August 1983, and Rodríguez Sánchez will be tried for their alleged responsibility over the deaths of the mainly Mayan villagers in a series of massacres during that period.
"This decision strengthens justice in Guatemala, as accountability for past crimes begins to emerge," said Sebastian Elgueta, Amnesty International researcher on Central America. "It's important to ensure justice, truth and reparation for the families and victims of thousands of other human rights violations."
A 1999 U.N.-backed truth commission found that during Guatemala's 36-year internal armed conflict (1960-1996), some 200,000 people were killed or disappeared. After documenting more than 600 massacres, the commission concluded that genocide had occurred – mostly during the Ríos Montt presidency. Many responsible for these crimes have evaded justice thus far.
There have been barriers to effective investigations and prosecutions including the refusal by Guatemalan military to hand over documents and past records. A bill to create a National Commission to Search for Victims of Enforced and Other Forms of Disappearance was presented in 2007, but after six years, Congress has failed to pass it into law.
"Today's decision to proceed with the trial is very important – but the crimes of Guatemala's past will continue to cast a shadow over the present until the authorities ensure truth, justice and reparation for all of the victims and their families," said Elgueta.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.