Constitutional Court Issues Rulings, Ongoing Questions About How They Impact Genocide Trial Proceedings

NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala) filed the following 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 ongoing coverage of the trial in Guatemala of Efraín Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Survivors, lawyers and human rights groups remain hopeful that the Constitutional Court will clear the legal obstacles impeding the conclusion of the genocide case, but lawyers interpreted today’s Constitutional Court rulings as a disappointing setback.

The afternoon began with a flurry of unofficial reports in the Guatemalan media that the genocide case trial had been annulled. Within 6 resolutions it appeared the Constitutional Court resolved, one including a ruling to reinstate defense lawyer Francisco García Gudiel, who was expelled from the courtroom on the first day of the trial. At the time of this writing, lawyers for the victims and survivors interpret this ruling to mean that the genocide hearing may return to the first day of the trial, March 19, 2013, when Gudiel was removed. Read more about Gudiel’s maneuver in our Day 1 summary.  Returning to this point in the process would essentially require a repetition of the trial proceedings thus far, including over 100 witness testimonies and over 60 expert witnesses.

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The Third Appellate Court had previously ruled twice against Gudiel’s appeal to be reinstated as Ríos Montt’s lawyer. On Thursday, April 18, the same day that Judge Patricia Carol Flores ruled to annul the trial, the Appellate Court reversed its own rulings, granting a provisional injunction in favor of Gudiel. This is the decision the Constitutional Court upheld today.

Less clear are the impacts of the Constitutional Court’s response to appeals filed after Judge Flores’ decision to annul the trial hearings and return them to the pre-trial phase. The Court stated today that Flores lacked the necessary paperwork to make her April 18 decision on the submission of defense evidence. The Constitutional Court put the ball back in Flores’ court, highlighting this procedural point. Lawyers for the prosecution continue to analyze the impacts of this decision by the Constitutional Court. It is unclear if this means that Judge Flores will have to re-issue a ruling on defense evidence. A repeat of her ruling to turn the clock back to November 23, 2011 would mean Ríos Montt is no longer formally charged with genocide and crimes against humanity.

Other rulings issued by the Constitutional Court remain under review by lawyers, with other resolutions still to come.

Lawyers representing the victims and survivors of the case reiterated their commitment to seeking justice and breaking down the walls of impunity. CALDH Director Francisco Soto Forno stated, “The struggle against impunity must continue. The witnesses spoke: the country, the world and Ríos Montt heard them. They can’t deny the truth…This would be a setback for the court, for the victims, but we don’t see this as a defeat. We value what we have done and what we have accomplished.”

The Constitutional Court has been the site of daily demonstrations by the survivors and their supporters since the suspension of the trial last Thursday, urging a swift and just resolution to impediments to the continuation of the genocide case trial. Today, an estimated 30 vehicles transported demonstrators from the Ixil region to counter-protest. Luis Méndez Ruíz, of the Foundation Against Terrorism, was visibly directing the protestors. On Guatemalan television this evening, he warned that, “violence is on the verge of breaking out”. When asked by the reporter to clarify what he meant, Ruíz stated, “the murder of community leaders from the social movement.”

Stay tuned for further development tomorrow, including statements by the Association for Justice and Reconciliation.

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 ourFacebook page and sign up for email updates.

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