Luis Moreno Ocampo: the Meaning of the Rios Montt Trial

Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, made the following remarks today (March 19th 2013) as the trial of former generals Efrain Rios Montt and Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez began in Guatemala City:

The judges, public prosecutors, and defense attorneys of Guatemala have an enormous responsibility to guarantee a fair trial: fair for the victims and fair for the accused. A fair trial is a necessary condition of, but not alone sufficient for a successful experience: the impact of the trial on Guatemala and on the world will depend on the actions of others. Journalists, politicians, movie directors, writers, and concerned citizens are the ones who can make this trial a turning point in history.

The trial can help us understand the impact of the Cold War, a difficult period in Latin American history, when the massacre of civilians became a political tool for obtaining or maintaining power. Trained guerrilla fighters hid among the civilian populations while military and political forces developed plans for control that included the torture and murder of Guatemalan citizens.

In 1985 I had the privilege of serving as an assistant prosecutor in the trial of the military juntas that had governed Argentina. We had proof that intelligence officials from our army, educated by French and American officials, had trained Guatemalan officials in the use of torture and extrajudicial executions. Both in Argentina and in Guatemala, these murders were not isolated or spontaneous actions by members of security and armed forces. These crimes were the result of carrying out plans and orders. For this reason it is so important that the trial concentrates on those who gave the orders. In an army, the commander is responsible for the actions of his troops. If the commanding officers order and cover up the crimes, then they are responsible. This is the kind of conduct that must be avoided in future.

In the 21 st century, Latin America has liberated itself from political violence. Colombia is battling with the last active guerrilla group, but the violence of organized crime is the scourge of our time.

The trial of Ríos Montt should serve to clarify and overcome both the political violence of the past and this new violence of organized crime. It can serve to create a just and peaceful future for Guatemala, Latin America, and the world.

Luis Moreno Ocampo
Former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (2003-2012)
Former Assistant Prosecutor in the Trial of the Juntas in Argentina (1985)

You can follow the trial here.

Categories: Genocide, Legal, Rios Montt

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