Guatemala's Rios Montt to stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity

A judge in Guatemala ordered former military leader Efrain Rios Montt to stand trial. He is the first ex-president charged with genocide by a Latin American court.

Moises Castillo/AP
Guatemala's former military leader Efrain Rios Montt (1982-83) attends a pre-trial hearing at court in Guatemala City, last week.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, The views expressed are the author's own.

Jose Efrain Rios Montt will be tried on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for the massacres and displacements Mayan indigenous in 1982-83 (BBC, Prensa Libre, Plaza Publica, HRW).

I think the "and" in that previous sentence is going to become an important point in this trial. While I and many others believe Rios Montt is guilty of genocide, it is a particularly difficult crime to prove in court given that it is based on intent. There are no public ideological writings of Rios Montt that clearly call for the extermination of a particular ethnic group, even if he was behind the deaths of 1,700 Mayans, and the private writings can be challenged in court.

However, the crimes against humanity, which include being the intellectual author of numerous massacres and the displacement of tens of thousands, are pretty much without dispute. Whether or not he intended to commit genocide, he certainly ordered those crimes against humanity.
I expect that secondary charges will become very important as this trial continues. The genocide charges may not stick, particularly in the heavily politicized environment of Guatemala's judicial system, but the evidence for the crimes against humanity is overwhelming. Rios Montt should spend the rest of his life in prison for those crimes. The justice will be delayed and imperfect, but it would still end three decades of impunity for Guatemala's former leader.

– James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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