Rights Groups urge completion of genocide trial

On Friday, April 19, the genocide trial of Rios Montt former dictator and Mauricio Rodgriquez Sanchez former head of military intelligence was suspended following the unexpected ruling of Judge Carol Patricia Flores on Thursday, annulling the proceedings. Judge Flores, who presided over preliminary hearings at an earlier stage, prior to her November 2011 recusal, asserted that the annulment of proceedings was required pursuant to an order of the Constitutional Court (requiring the admissibility of some defense evidence previously ordered excluded, but nonetheless admitted by the trial court) and a separate order of the Supreme Court (rejecting as illegal her recusal from the earlier proceedings, and reinstating her).

The tribunal overseeing the trial rejected Judge Flores’ order as illegal, insisted that the tribunal and the judges were not subject to illegal orders, and suspended the proceedings pending review by the Constitutional Court. Judge Yassmin Barrios, President of the trial court, asserted that the tribunal would contest the legality of Judge Flores’ decision and seek review by the Constitutional Court.

In the intervening days, the Public Ministry and civil parties filed various amparos and other legal actions against Judge Flores’ ruling annulling the proceedings, and against other related actions. The defendants, for their part, also filed legal actions related to other aspects of the trial.

On Monday night, after an extraordinary session, the Constitutional Court announced that it had not yet made any decisions concerning the legal challenges filed in connection with the trial, and that its deliberations continue. Article 361 of the Guatemalan Criminal Procedure Code requires that a trial be declared null if suspended for more than 10 days, suggesting a temporal limit for the Constitutional Court’s review of the legality of Judge Flores’ decision.

Victims, survivors and their supporters have continued to protest publicly, meeting in front of the Constitutional Court daily since the suspension of the genocide trial of Rios Montt former dictator and Mauricio Rodgriquez Sanchez former head of military intelligence. On Sunday, Guatemalan human rights activist Helen Mack read a statement signed by 30 human rights organizations at a press conference urging the Constitutional Court’s action. Supporters of the military also protested in various parts of the city, under the banner “there was no genocide” (no hubo genocidio).

Various international actors have expressed strong support for the continuation of the trial in recent days. On Friday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for the trial to continue, identifying its early cessation as an affront to the victims. Other rights groups – including Open Society Justice Initiative, International Center for Transitional Justice, Center for Justice and International Law, and the Washington Office on Latin America – rejected improper interference in the trial, and called for the trial to conclude. Others expressed support for the continuation of the process and solidarity with the victims, including Amnesty International, the Forum of International NGOs in Guatemala, Impunity Watch, and the International Federal of Human Rights (FIDH).

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Categories: Genocide, Human Rights, Legal

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