Alarm at prospect of amnesty for Guatemalan ex-dictator

By staff writers
November 2, 2013

In the last few days, press reports emerging from Guatemala have claimed that Guatemala’s Constitutional Court has decided to 'open the door' to a general amnesty that could see Efrain Rios Montt, former military leader and former president of Guatemala, avoid prosecution for war crimes.

The former dictator was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity in May this year and sentenced to 80 years in prison for massacres that took place in the early 1980s, resulting in the deaths of over 1,700 people. Ten days later, the case was overturned on a legal technicality and a retrial was ordered.

According to the Guatemalan press, the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court are allegedly considering using the 1986 amnesty law as grounds to drop all charges against Montt. However, in June of this year the Guatemalan Supreme Court rejected a motion to quash the prosecution of Montt, finding that the 1986 amnesty did not extend to genocide and crimes against humanity.

The International Centre for Research in Human Rights (CIIDH), a key player in the country’s human rights movement, has been working with the victims’ families to ensure justice is served.

Jorge Santos, Director at CIIDH, said: "We are very concerned about the latest developments that have been reported in the media. Earlier this year the Supreme Court rejected a call to use the 1986 amnesty law as a defence in Montt’s trial. We don’t understand why this challenge from the Constitutional Court would even be considered now."

He continued: "If Rios Montt is protected, the victims of his monstrous actions will never receive the justice they deserve and this case could be used to absolve previous convictions against members of the military. There is serious concern that if the court agrees to use the amnesty in this case, it will have major implications for past rulings and could set a dangerous precedent.

"The impact of the annulment of the original sentence on the victims, as well as Guatemalan society as a whole, should not be underestimated. Once again, Guatemalans have witnessed the failures of their judiciary system."

This year's trial was the first time any former head of state had been called to account for genocide in his or her own country’s courts. The massacres and atrocities of the Guatemalan civil war claimed more than 200,000 lives.

Rios Montt proclaimed himself a born-again Christian and was backed by many evangelicals in Guatemala and the USA, some of whom have now admitted that their support for his vicious anti-communist crusade, which led to the deaths of many priests and religious, was a mistake.

The retrial of Rios Montt is currently scheduled for April 2014.

[Ekk/3]

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