On January 26, 2012, Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz formally indicted former dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide for his role in the “scorched earth” campaign during the country’s civil war in the 1980’s. The accusations include torture, genocide, forced disappearances, state terrorism, and crimes against humanity.
As a result of CJA’s work on the Guatemalan Genocide Case in Spain, Paz y Paz invited CJA to play a more active role in supporting the national prosecution of the genocide case in Guatemala in 2011. For this purpose, we have worked closely with the prosecutors to help develop the case, from drafting legal briefs to preparing experts. We also shared all of our expert reports and evidence from the case in Spain. Two key pieces of evidence unearthed by CJA that Paz y Paz introduced to support the indictment are the work of the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala and film footage of Ríos Montt admitting that he had command responsibility over the Guatemalan army.
After the indictment, CJA continued to assist the prosecution. For example, we helped develop four expert witnesses’ reports, which were filed in April 2012. Three of the reports are based upon evidence previously introduced in the case in Spain. They are from the following country experts: Charlie Hale of the University of Texas, Beatriz Manz from UC Berkeley and Marta Casaus from the Autonomous University of Madrid. The fourth expert report was prepared by Juan Méndez, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture.
In January 2013, Guatemalan Judge Miguel Angel Gálvez ordered Ríos Montt and his intelligence chief, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, to stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. A three-judge panel heard evidence against Ríos Montt. CJA’s international attorney, Almudena Bernabeu, served as technical advisor to the Prosecutor and the plaintiffs’ lawyers during the entire trial.
On May 10, 2013, Ríos Montt was found guilty and convicted for genocide and crimes against humanity. This event marks the first time a former head of state has been convicted of genocide by a court in his own country. However, later that same year, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court overturned the conviction basing its decision on legal technicalities.
A retrial was ordered, but suspended in a ruling on May 6, 2016. On March 31, 2017, in a separate case, a court ruled that Rios Montt could stand trial for genocide in the Dos Erres Massacre, in which more than 200 civilians were killed. As the national courts of Guatemala prove their intent to prosecute grave crimes, the Spanish National Court will not likely proceed. CJA supports the efforts of Guatemalan courts to prosecute the historic crimes that occurred within their borders.