Tags: allan nairn, central america, counterinsurgency, genoicide, guatemala, guatemala civil war, guatemala dictatorship, guatemala guerrillas, guatemala massacre, Latin America, mayan indians, perez molina, rios-montt, roger hollander, sonia perez diaz
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GUATEMALA CITY — A Guatemalan court convicted former dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity on Friday, sentencing him to 80 years in prison, the first such sentence ever handed down against a former Latin American leader.
It was the state’s first official acknowledgment that genocide occurred during the bloody, 36-year civil war, something the current president, retired Gen. Otto Perez Molina, has denied.
“He knew about everything that was going on and he did not stop it, despite having the power to stop it from being carried out,” said Presiding Judge Yassmin Barrios. “Rios Montt is guilty of genocide.”
The 86-year-old former general laughed, talked to his lawyers and listened to the procedures through headphones. When the guilty verdict was announced, the crowded courtroom erupted in cheers. Some women who lost relatives in the massacres wept.
“Judge, Judge! Restore order!” Rios Montt shouted as cameramen and photographers swarmed him after the verdict was announced.
A three-judge tribunal issued the verdict after the nearly two-month trial in which dozens of victims testified about mass rapes and the killings of women and children and other atrocities.
The proceedings suffered ups and downs as the trial was suspended for 12 days amid appeals and at times appeared headed for annulment.
Survivors and relatives of victims have sought for 30 years to bring punishment for Rios Montt. For international observers and Guatemalans on both sides of the war, the trial could be a turning point in a nation still wrestling with the trauma of a conflict that killed some 200,000 people.
“Rios Montt being found guilty … is a significant step forward for justice and accountability in Guatemala,” said Matthew Kennis, Amnesty International’s chair for Central America-Mexico Coordination Group.
Rios Montt had said he never knew of or ordered the massacres while in power. A co-defendant, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, a 68-year-old former general who was a high-ranking member of the military chiefs of staff during Rios Montt’s administration, was acquitted.
The 80-year sentence was somewhat symbolic, given Rios Montt’s age and the fact that Guatemala’s maximum sentence is 50 years. His lawyers vowed to appeal the ruling.
“This is an unjust verdict. We already knew they were going to convict him, the general (Rios Montt) even came with his suitcase packed,” said defense lawyer Francisco Palomo.
Indians from ethnic Mayan groups broke into song after the verdict, singing “We only want to be human beings … to live life, not die it.”
“This is a verdict that is just. This brings justice for the victims, justice for the people of Guatemala,” said Edgar Perez of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, one of the groups that originally brought the criminal complaint against the ex-dictator a dozen years ago.
Dozens of victims testified of atrocities. A former soldier directly accused President Perez Molina of ordering pillaging and executions while serving in the military during the Rios Montt regime. Perez Molina called the testimony “lies.”
Ixil Indian Benjamin Geronimo, president of the Justice and Reconciliation Association, told the tribunal during closing arguments Thursday that he survived massacres and killings that claimed the lives of 256 members of his community.
“I saw it with my own eyes, I’m not going to lie. Children, pregnant women and the elderly were killed,” said Geronimo, who spoke on behalf of the victims.
Rios Montt testified for the first time at his trial Thursday.
“I declare myself innocent,” Rios Montt told the three-judge tribunal as many in the audience applauded. “It was never my intention or my goal to destroy a whole ethnic group.”
Rios Montt seized power in a March 23, 1982, coup, and ruled until he himself was overthrown just over a year later. Prosecutors say that while in power he was aware of, and thus responsible for, the slaughter by subordinates of at least 1,771 Ixil Mayas in San Juan Cotzal, San Gaspar Chajul and Santa Maria Nebaj, towns in the Quiche department of Guatemala’s western highlands.
Those military offensives were part of a brutal, decades-long counterinsurgency against a leftist uprising that brought massacres in the Mayan heartland where the guerrillas were based.
A U.N. truth commission said state forces and related paramilitary groups were responsible for 93 percent of the killings and human rights violations that it documented, committed mostly against indigenous Maya. Yet until now, only low or middle-level officials have been prosecuted for war atrocities.
Prosecutors and advocates for victims built their case on thousands of green folders stuffed with military documents, victims’ testimony and ballistic and forensic examinations of human remains, mostly women or children.
The court was packed with representatives of indigenous, human rights and student groups as well as former soldiers and family members of victims.
Military experts testifying for the victims have said this description of the chain of command makes it obvious that the military chief of staff and other high commanders including Rios Montt could have halted the massacres.
The Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation carried out more than 60 studies to identify some 800 sets of human remains from the area that was evidence in the trial, the great majority of victims were women and children who suffered violent deaths.
Mayas were treated as an internal enemy because they were seen as lending support to the guerrillas, according to the indictment against Rios Montt.
Rios Montt is the first Latin American strongman to stand trial and be convicted of genocide in his own country.
Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet who ruled from 1973 to 1990 died in 2006, under house arrest, without ever being convicted on charges of illegal enrichment and human rights violations. In Argentina, former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla was convicted and sentenced prison, but for charges other than genocide.
Associated Press Writer Olga R. Rodriguez contributed to this report
A Formal Legal Mandate for a Criminal Investigation of Guatemala’s Current President, Perez Molina
General Efrain Rios Montt has been found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. He has already begun his “irrevocable” sentence of 80 years in prison.
The court that convicted Rios Montt has also ordered the attorney general to launch an immediate investigation of “all others” connected to the crimes.
This important and unexpected aspect of the verdict means that there now exists a formal legal mandate for a criminal investigation of the President of Guatemala, General Otto Perez Molina.
As President, Perez Molina enjoys temporary legal immunity, but that immunity does not block the prosecutors from starting their investigation.
Last night, in a live post-verdict interview on CNN Espanol TV, Perez Molina was confronted about his own role during the Rios Montt massacres.
The interviewer, Fernando del Rincon, repeatedly asked Perez Molina about his filmed interviews with me when he was Rios Montt’s Ixil field commander.
At that time, Perez Molina, operating under the alias “Major Tito Arias,” commanded troops who described to me how, under orders, they killed civilians.
At first, Perez Molina refused to answer, then CNN’s satellite link to him was cut off, then, after it was restored minutes later, Perez Molina replied that women, children and “complete families” had in fact aided guerrillas.
Offering what appears to be a rationale for killing families may not be a sufficient defense. But that is up to Perez Molina.
He too deserves his day in court.
Guatemala Dictator Efrain Rios Montt Faces Genocide Allegations, Lawyer Disputes Charges January 28, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: carol patricia flores, cirmes against humanity, genocide, guatemala, guatemala civil war, guatemala dictatorship, human rights, Latin America, montt, oscar perez molina, rigoberta menchu, rios-montt, roger hollander, romina ruiz-foiriena, sury rios
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Guatemala’s former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, center, sits between his lawyers as they listen to prosecutors in a courtroom in Guatemala City on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Roger’s note: I am reminded of those four words that contain almost everything one need’s to know to understand our crazy world: No Justice, No Peace. The charges against Montt are a good precedent, there are many others who should be facing the same justice, including Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld and the rest of the American war criminals. And need I mention that the brutal Guatemalan dictatorship not only had the full support of the United States government but was in fact heir to power in Guatemala as a result of the CIA directed coup d’etat in the mid fifties that deposed a progressive elected president (as with Pinochet in Chile, etc.)?
GUATEMALA CITY — The defense lawyer for former dictator Efrain Rios Montt said Friday that a judge violated due process when she issued
unprecedented genocide charges against Rios Montt for conduct during Guatemala’s bloody civil war.
Danilo Rodriguez Galvez said Judge Carol Patricia Flores was supposed to issue her decision only after hearing testimony on allegations that Rios Montt was involved in hundreds of murders, human violations and the displacement of 29,000 people during the three-decade war.
Flores charged Rios Montt with genocide and crimes against humanity late Thursday, hours after he appeared in court but refused to testify about the allegations.
It’s the first time a Latin American court has charged former president with genocide.
Flores first lectured Rios Montt for an hour on the allegations, citing witness testimony, before issuing her decision, Rodriguez said. He said that her conduct resembled a conviction and that he would file a formal complaint next week.
“The judge’s duty was to report the resolution. The fact is that she talked for an hour as if the case had already been prosecuted,” Rodriguez said.
Flores said Friday she would not comment because the complaint had yet to be formally filed.
Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala in 1982-83 after a military coup, is accused in 266 incidents that resulted in 1,771 deaths, 1,400 human rights violations and the displacement of 29,000 indigenous Guatemalans.
The war ended in 1996 with the signing of a peace accord between the government and leftist guerrillas. The conflict left more than 200,000 dead and missing, 93 percent of them by state forces and paramilitary groups, according to a U.N. report. Hundreds of Mayan villages were largely wiped away.
“I understand what the prosecution is saying and I won’t respond,” Rios Montt said before the judge, later adding: “The point is to do justice, not vengeance.”
He had immunity from prosecution as a member of congress, but it expired Jan. 14.
After hearing daylong testimony, some by victims and witnesses of atrocities, Flores deliberated for three hours before issuing her decision. Rios Montt faces prosecution on charges he was the mastermind of the abuses in his roles as head of the military and Guatemala’s equivalent of the secret service.
“Unfortunately there are cases like this where people have been waiting 29 years for justice,” Flores said during the testimony.
The next step is for the prosecution to present the formal case against Rios Montt before the court.
He was ordered to be held under house arrest and to pay a $64,000 bond.
The former dictator was also told not to communicate with others accused in the case, which also involves country’s first genocide charges against retired generals Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez and Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, the army chief of staff under Rios Montt.
Crimes against humanity charges were suspended earlier this month for retired Gen. Oscar Humberto Mejia, the defense minister for Rios Montt who later deposed him to take over the presidency. The court determined Mejia doesn’t have the physical or mental faculties to go to trial.
Rodriguez and Lopez have also claimed health conditions have kept them from court proceedings. All are in their 80s.
Prosecutors argued Thursday that as de facto president, Rios Montt was responsible for the army’s “scorched earth” policy in communities where there was potential support for the leftist rebels.
Prosecutor Manuel Vasquez also accused him of authorizing massacres of ethnic Ixil Maya as well as sexual assaults on the women.
“The politics that caused the massacres started in 1965 and continued throughout,” Rodriguez argued on behalf of Rios Montt. “You can’t ascribe authorship of that long-term political policy to Rios Montt.”
Zury Rios, the former leader’s daughter who heads the Guatemala Republican Front political party, said the case against her father came from outside interests.
It was first brought in 2000 by the Center for Legal Action for Human Rights based on testimony of victims and their families.
Guatemala’s 1992 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Rigoberta Menchu, also has accused Rios Montt of genocide in a Spanish court.
The country’s recently inaugurated president, Otto Perez Molina, was a top military officer during the war and has long insisted there were no massacres, human rights violations or genocide in the conflict.
But his close advisers have said he supports meeting the conditions set by various U.S. congressional appropriations acts for restoring aid that was first eliminated in 1978 halfway through the civil war. Among the required steps is reforming a weak justice system that has failed to bring those responsible for wartime abuses to justice.
The unprecedented genocide trial has continued since Perez took office earlier this month.