“When trial judges in Guatemala convicted their own former head of state, Efrain Rios Montt, of genocide last May—a worldwide first—the rule of law set down roots in a country renowned for impunity. Subsequent events have shown how fragile those roots are.”
As Emi McLean writes in The Trial of Efraín Ríos Montt and Mauricio Rodríguez Sanchez, “this year is a crucial one for the independence of the justice sector in Guatemala. Challenges are already evident.”
“Only days after the dictator’s conviction for his role in massacres of the indigenous Ixil during the country’s internal armed conflict, the Constitutional Court, in a divided and controversial judgment, annulled the ruling, forcing the disqualification of the trial court and upending the judicial process. Adding further confusion, in an October ruling, the Constitutional Court did not foreclose the possibility that a decades-old amnesty law could prevent the prosecution altogether, despite clear domestic and international prohibitions against such a prohibition. A new trial date has been set far into the future—January 2015—and is facing renewed obstacles, due to an appeals court judgment last week.
The turbulent maneuvering related to the Ríos Montt trial happens against a backdrop of a year of transformation in the justice sector: In 2014, Guatemala selects a new slate of Supreme Court and appellate court judges and decides who will serve as Attorney General for the next five years. In the aftermath of the monumental genocide trial, these critical selection processes are already showing signs of politicization, including efforts to truncate the term of Guatemala’s pioneering attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz.”
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