Genocide Trial, Day 21: Trial Will Continue While Proceedings Await Decision from Constitutional Court

NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala) filed the following Day 21 report of the genocide trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and ex-intelligence chief Mauricio Rodriguez Sánchez in Guatemala City. They have given us permission to republish all their reports about this historic trial.

NISGUA continues live coverage of the trial in Guatemala of Efraín Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity.Read our previous summaries: Day 1234/567891011-1412,13/1415/1617/181920 part 120 part 2 and our full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.

After the dramatic events impacting the genocide trial proceedings yesterday, there was an air of expectation in the courtroom this morning as a full gallery waited to see what impact yesterday’s ruling by Judge Patricia Flores would have and whether the defendants and their lawyers would appear for the hearing.  Defense lawyers abandoned the genocide trial courtroom yesterday morning and in the afternoon Flores ruled the oral public debate be annulled and returned to a prior phase dating back to November 2011.

Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez did appear in court, although without their defense lawyers. Supporters for the accused were also notably missing from the gallery.

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Judge Yasmín Barrios initiated the day’s proceedings by immediately addressing the Flores resolution emitted yesterday. The point of controversy was related to defense evidence denied in a previous phase of the process. Barrios made reference to the original Constitutional Court decision, which included:

The rejection of evidence submitted by the amparistas [injunction applicants, in this case the defense] can be processed within the corresponding process without affecting the beginning of the process or regressing it to stages that have already been carried out, which would be illegal.

Judge Barrios had previously highlighted her court’s compliance with this decision, when she admitted previously rejected evidence into the genocide case proceedings. Today she ruled, “[Judge Flores] overreached in her resolution. We consider the resolution to weaken our functions. We are not obligated to obey illegal actions…The court will not allow itself to be subject to Judge Flores’ ruling.” The court ordered that the trial be suspended while awaiting a direct decision from the Constitutional Court on the resolution emitted by Judge Flores, “in which she illegally ordered the debate annulled.”

The public prosecutor promptly reiterated their request from yesterday asking that the court assign a court-appointed lawyer to the defendants, given that their lawyers had abandoned the courtroom. The judges found in favor of the request, stating, “The defense lawyers have abandoned the defense of accused Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez. They have been notified. The court orders that the public defense names a court-appointed lawyer for the defense.”

After a little over an hour of proceedings for the day, Judge Barrios adjourned the court. An outburst of emotion came from the gallery in the form of a standing ovation. In a moving tribute to the emotion experienced in the room, the three judges stood respectfully as thundering applause was punctuated by chants of “Justice! Justice! Justice!” After a few minutes Chief Judge Barrios leaned down to her microphone and said to the court, “I thank you for your confidence in the justice system.”

Buoyed by today’s ruling, genocide case survivors and supporters remained after the judges left the courtroom, clapping and chanting, “Justice”, “Sí Hubo Genocidio”(Yes, It Was Genocide), “We are All Ixiles”, “This is a just trial”. Groups of supporters spilled out into the plaza outside and marched directly to the Constitutional Court, where the future of the trial rests in their decision regarding Flores’ annulment ruling. It is anticipated the court will issue a ruling within three business days.

NISGUA has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness’ organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, and their lawyers, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action since 2000. We will continue to bear witness to the truth and bravery of these survivors throughout this historic trial. To bear witness with us, stay tuned to our ongoing live Twitter coverage @NISGUA_Guate, like our Facebook page and sign up for email updates.

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