Monday, April 22, 2013

The Rios Montt trial & the shell game of Guatemalan justice

In a move stunning in its defiance of justice, Guatemalan judge Patricia Flores suspended the trial of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt (on April 18th) & his co-defendant, Jose Rodriguez Sanchez for conducting a scorched earth policy of rape, torture, & arson against the Mayans in a genocidal onslaught where an estimated 200,000 people died & 45,000 disappeared. Many international observers called the trial “emblematic” for setting a precedent in holding dictators to account for their crimes. It turns out to be emblematic in the sense of a show trial meant to hoodwink justice.

This suspension is only the latest of numerous legal stalling tactics employed by the defense team of Rios Montt in collusion with the compromised judicial system of Guatemala. The way this shell game works under Guatemalan legal procedure is that criminal cases first go to a single judge to decide whether there is enough evidence to send a case to trial by a three-judge panel who will decide whether to proceed to the actual trial. Flores was the single judge at the initial hearing but was removed after Rios Montt’s lawyers filed a complaint alleging she was biased. Another judge took over the case & eventually ruled to proceed with the prosecution. The three-judge panel phase of this kangaroo court procedure began March 19th, 2013. The Flores ruling sends the prosecution back to square one.

Nearly 100 people have testified so far in the trial, including Mayan women who were systematically gang-raped by soldiers & paramilitary groups. Many of the women wept, testified with their heads covered & did not reveal their names. Imagine the criminal temerity of a judicial system attempting to vacate all that harrowing, wrenching testimony & compel the women & other victims to repeat it in future legal proceedings! The crimes go back to the 1980s so the victims have been waiting more than 30 years to give testimony.

It is the dogged efforts of the Mayan victims & their supporters over the past three decades that got this low life piece of crap into a courtroom. They had to go up against the machinations of the entire state apparatus of Guatemala, including the president (himself implicated in the genocide), the judicial system, & the military. They are not likely to retreat now with the solidarity of millions of people around the world, the support of Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu, of human rights groups & even the UN human rights commissioner. They vocally denounced the judge as a sell-out & are protesting in the streets demanding the Flores decision be reversed. One banner read, "Wanted: Rios Montt for genocide.”

Prosecutors along with the three-judge panel have appealed to the Constitutional Court of Guatemala to rule if the trial should proceed. Flores (who was just reinstalled) maintains the Constitutional Court & the Supreme Court of Justice were the ones ordering the case be rolled back to square one in the first place. So the legal shell game continues & the plot sickens.

The photo is of a banner unfurled outside the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City displaying the names of those murdered or disappeared during the Rios Montt genocide. Genocide is a very personal crime & the victims come back in montages all over the world to haunt justice. Our fullest respect & solidarity with the Mayan people in their dogged pursuit of justice. They may not succeed against the Guatemalan state in getting that piece of garbage into jail but the entire world now knows what he did & who he is. Rios Montt isn't capable of shame but he should know international condemnation.

(Photo by Xeni Jardin)

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