Checking in on Guatemala's Rios Montt trial

If former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt is acquitted of war crimes and genocide charges that doesn't necessarily mean the Guatemalan legal system is failing, writes a guest blogger.

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

The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) is providing daily updates on the genocide and crimes against humanity trial against Efrain Rios Montt and Jose Roriguez Sanchez. From day three:

Hours of intense first-person accounts of violence and endurance left impressions of profound grief: "They killed our fathers, our mothers, and everything we loved," said one witness; as well as resolute purpose: "I am one of the few survivors. Perhaps I was sent to be the messenger of the story here."

In all 12 witnesses were called to the stand to be questioned by lawyers for the prosecution and the accused. Most spoke with the aid of court-appointed Ixil Maya translators; one witness, Alberto López, was unable to deliver his testimony due to the lack of a K'iche' Maya translator and will be given another opportunity to take the stand in a future hearing. Among the witnesses were leaders of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, the survivors' organization which first opened the genocide case more than a decade ago, including current AJR board member Domingo Raymundo Cobo and former board members Francisco Raymundo Chavez and Gaspár Velasco.

The Open Society Justice Initiative is also providing regular updates here.

The Latin Americanist has Guatemala: Witnesses Recall Horror and Heartache at Rios Montt Trial.

Phil Neff has a post on the black humor surrounding the trial in Chapín black humor meets the Guatemala genocide trial.

James Rodriguez has photos of the trial at MiMundo.

Victoria Sanford has an opinion piece in Plaza Publica that originally appeared in El Faro on El genocidio no es un enfrentamiento armado. In it, she criticizes President Otto Perez Molina and other who deny that genocide occurred. But while Boz, Victoria, and I believe that genocide did occur in Guatemala, it's more difficult to prove than crimes against humanity. See Boz from a few weeks ago.

It's a legal question that the judges will have to decide.

Honestly, I hope that should the generals be found not guilty of genocide and/or crimes against humanity, people don't run to the hilltops shouting that this is another example of impunity in Guatemala. The lead judge, Jazmin Barrios, appears to be a judge of integrity who is committed to the law. She has already worked on cases in which human rights violators were found guilty and punished. She stuck to the court's timetable to have the case moved up five months. She and her fellow judges also played hardball with Efrain Rios Montt and his defense counsel as they tried to have her removed from the case.

Mike Allison is an associate professor in the Political Science Department and a member of the Latin American and Women's Studies Department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.  You can follow his Central American Politics blog here.

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