Day 2 of the Ríos Montt Genocide Trial from Guatemala

Here is an excerpt of the Day 2 report from the trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and former head of military intelligence Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez. For more, you can visit The Open Society Justice Initiative.

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The second day of the Rios Montt genocide trial began with uncertainty about Rios Montt’s legal representation. With his newly appointed lawyer expelled by the court on the first day, he arrived on the morning of the second day without legal representation.

Judge Barrios initially stated that Rios Montt would be represented by the defense attorneys present, Cesar Calderon and Francisco Palomo, but that he could introduce an attorney of his choosing at any time. Francisco Palomo, who had previously represented both Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez, insisted to the court on Wednesday that he could no longer defend Rios Montt; Calderon renewed his protest as well.

When Judge Barrios asked Rios Montt his intentions for his legal representation, the former general stated that he had expected that Garcia, his expelled attorney, would be present. Judge Barrios renewed the tribunal’s rejection of Garcia. After Judge Barrios insisted that she would approach the state to identify a public defender to represent him, to ensure the protection of his constitutional rights, if he did not identify someone himself, he excused himself to make a phone call. Within an hour, Marco Antonio Cornejo Marroquin arrived at the defense table. Cornejo had previously represented Rios Montt, alongside Francisco Palomo, Danilo Rodriguez and Luis Rosales, before Rios Montt’s decision to substitute Garcia for his entire defense team on the morning of the opening of the trial.

Mid-morning, Judge Barrios also called the defense expert witnesses to be sworn in, pending a final decision from an appeals court which had provisionally suspended Judge Galvez’ February 4 decision rejecting the defense experts. The court swore in as defense experts Manuel Eduardo Conde Orellana, to testify concerning the peace process and peace agreements; General Jose Luis Quilo Ayuso, to provide testimony concerning chain of command and military structure;  Benjamin Rafael Francisco Godoy, to testify about the internal armed conflict, the insurgency in Ixil, and the National Security Doctrine; and Carlos Leonel Mendez Tejada, to testify about the chain of command in Guatemala and command responsibility. All identified that they knew the accused; Francisco Godoy stated that he had a friendship with them. Each was ordered to return April 9 and 10 to testify, and to provide a written statement in advance.

Over the course of the day, the court heard testimony from 12 prosecution witnesses describing killings, and the decimation of villages, crops and animals, committed against them and their family and communities by the Guatemalan military, often including forced evacuation from their homes,  in 1982 and 1983 during Rios Montt’s rule. All were Mayan Ixils, virtually all were either children or middle-aged in 1982 or 1983, and all but one were male.

In large part, the prosecution aimed to present an account of killings, including of many women and children and some elderly people; the destruction or theft of property or animals; and the witness’ living conditions, particularly when the witness fled into the mountains or was displaced elsewhere;  as well as the source of the witness’ knowledge of the events, any interactions with the military, the witness’ understanding of why the military committed the abuses, and the effect of the events on the witness. In some instances, the prosecution asked whether the witness or family members were guerrillas.

The defense, for its part, largely used cross-examination to discredit or challenge particular statements made; ask further questions concerning the level of direct knowledge, or certainty, of the witness’ account of events; identify the ethnicity of the soldiers; or ask about whether the witness, family members, or community members were, knew, or saw guerrillas. The defense declined to cross-examine various witnesses, especially following some of the most brutal accounts told by witnesses who were young children at the time of the events.

Ines Gomez Lopez, the first witness to testify on the second day of the trial, and the only woman to testify so far, described a September 10, 1982 attack in Chipal, when she was 11 years old, in which she witnessed soldiers kill her father. She said that her father said that they were persecuted “like animals”. She recounted that the army burned her family’s belongings and she fled to the mountains.

In the cross-examination, Calderon asked Gomez whether she knew guerrillas. this drew an objection from the civil party, which was sustained by the judge to the dismay of Calderon, who asserted to the judge that she appeared more lenient to the prosecution.

You can read the entire report here.

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