Rio Montt case overturned on procedural matters, with call for a new trial
Guatemala’s top court has thrown out the conviction of the general and former military dictator for genocide and crimes against humanity in what Amnesty International has called a “devastating blow for the victims of the serious human rights violations committed during the conflict.” On May 10, Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted of ordering the deaths of 1,771 people of the Ixil Maya ethnic group during his time in office in 1982-83, an act that he denies. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Truthdig made the judges and prosecutors of Montt Truthdiggers of the Week earlier this month during the week of Montt’s conviction. The 3-2 ruling Monday by a panel of constitutional judges tosses everything that happened in the trial since April 19 when Montt was briefly left without a defense lawyer, and resets the proceedings from that date. Montt’s defense attorneys had walked out of court the previous day in protest of what they called “illegal proceedings.” The court then ordered that he be represented by a public defense lawyer, instead of one of Montt’s choosing. Montt refused and instead sought attorney Francisco Garcia, had been expelled earlier for accusing the judges of “bias” and trying to have them dismissed. Garcia was expelled again April 19, and the panel said Monday that the trial should have been halted at that point. The constitutional court said statements delivered before April 19 would still be admitted, but that closing arguments must be given again. —Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly. BBC: The BBC’s Will Grant in Guatemala City says Monday’s low-key press conference contrasted sharply with the day the verdict was announced, when indigenous campaigners and relatives of victims hugged and cried with relief in the packed courtroom. But he adds that the decision to annul the sentence does not signal the end of the legal battle, as both sides will now start preparing to return to court to replay the final weeks of the trial. The general’s lawyer said he would now demand his release from the military hospital where he was taken from prison after allegedly fainting.