tuesday, 21 may of 2013

Guatemalan court overturns genocide conviction of ex-dictator


Guatemalan court overturns genocide conviction of ex-dictator

Guatemala’s highest court on Monday threw out the genocide conviction and prison sentence of the former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt.

The decision by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court was a dramatic legal victory for General Ríos Montt, 86, and a blow to human rights advocates who had called his conviction a sign that Guatemala’s courts would no longer allow impunity for the country’s powerful.

General Ríos Montt was sent to prison immediately after the verdict on May 10 when a three-panel tribunal found him guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison but was soon transferred to a military hospital for medical tests. Monday’s decision means that he will return to house arrest, where he had been held since the case against him began in January 2012.

The additional effects of Monday’s court ruling were unclear. The court did not invalidate the entire trial, which began on March 19. Instead, the court ordered that the proceedings be rolled back and reset to April 19, when a complex decision by another judge sent the trial into disarray, causing a brief suspension.

By April 19, the tribunal had heard all of the prosecution’s case and most of the defense’s. That testimony still stands. But the court’s ruling invalidated everything after that date.

Legal experts said repeating the final days of the trial before the same tribunal would be unlikely because it would amount to a form of double jeopardy for the general. But it was unclear if the rest of the trial would remain in limbo or could be restarted before a new tribunal.

General Ríos Montt was found to be responsible as commander in chief for a series of massacres and rapes and the forced displacement of the Maya-Ixil ethnic group during his 17-month rule in 1982 and 1983. During a month of prosecution testimony, the court heard wrenching descriptions by survivors of the army’s scorched-earth policy through the hamlets of the Mayan highlands.

His co-defendant, Gen. José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, was acquitted. The Constitutional Court’s ruling effectively throws out his acquittal, and it was unclear whether he would be rearrested.

The attorney general’s office is expected to appeal the court’s 3-2 ruling on Tuesday.

Although the conviction was celebrated by international human rights organizations, it was controversial in Guatemala. The Constitutional Court was the target of a lobbying campaign by opponents of the verdict. Perhaps the most important campaign was by Guatemala’s powerful business federation, known as Cacif for the initials of its Spanish name. Representing the country’s deeply conservative oligarchy, Cacif urged the court to overturn the verdict.

(Published by The New York Times – May 20, 2013)

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