Urging end to 'delaying' tactics, UN rights experts call for fairness in Guatemala's genocide trial

Public works project outside the National Palace, Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photo: World Bank/Maria Fleischmann

27 August 2015 – United Nations experts on genocide prevention and transitional justice today called on Guatemalan judicial authorities to “prevent any further attempt at interference, obstruction of justice or manipulation of the law,” when the genocide trial against the country's former de facto Head of State, and the former chief of intelligence resumes in January 2016.

“The delaying strategies, abusive use of judicial recourses and alleged threats and pressure against judges and prosecutors working on the case that have characterized the genocide trial, reveal significant flaws in the administration of justice in Guatemala,” said a joint statement by the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff.

This statement is endorsed by the President of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary, Ariel Dulitzky, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Juan Méndez and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Mónica Pinto.

Their appeal comes as a Guatemalan court decided to restart, in January 2016, the trial against former de facto Head of State, José Efraín Ríos Montt, and former chief of intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez.

According to the statement, the two men are accused of genocide and crimes against humanity for human rights violations committed against the Mayan Ixil population between 1982 and 1983. Reports estimate that 200,000 persons were killed or disappeared during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala (1960-1996).

“Time is critical,” the experts said. “The decision to schedule the new hearing for January 2016, does not reflect the decisive prioritization that the case merits. The defendants, witnesses and victims are all getting older. Two witnesses have passed away. Victims only ask to see that justice is served before they die.”

The human rights experts raised questions about the court's decision, based on Mr. Ríos Montt's mental health condition, to order the application of special procedures, which includes representation by a legal guardian and hearings held behind closed doors.

They said it is unclear why these procedures will apply to both defendants, while only Mr. Ríos Montt was found unfit.

“Denying victims and their families the right to justice by further delays and postponement of the trial will perpetuate feelings of frustration and discrimination,” the statement said. “Guatemala still needs to transform a culture of impunity into a culture in which the truth is told and individuals are held accountable, whoever they are. Impunity destroys the social fabric and perpetuates mistrust. A fragmented society is a society that cannot live in peace.”

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