The genocide retrial against former Guatemalan dictator Erfain Rios Montt will resume Thursday, despite the retired general being declared mentally unfit to face trial after multiple delays.
Experts and prosecutors insisted the process go ahead on Thursday in spite of the request from defense lawyers last week to indefinitely suspended the trial on the basis that 89-year-old Rios Montt would be mentally incapable of comprehending the charges against him and defending himself.
“Rios Montt declared ‘unfit for trial.’ Free from being tried for genocide. Bad news for justice.”
“We are ready with great desire to again prove the genocide and (violation of) duties to humanity that were committed against the Ixil ethnic group,” said human rights lawyer Hector Reyes in Prensa Libre.
A special tribunal was expected to rule Thursday on whether to accept or reject the report from the National Institute of Forensic Sciences detailing Rios Montt's health and psychological condition with respect to his ability to face trial. A ruling on the matter will be determined on Thursday during the court trial session, one of Rios Montt's legal representatives told EFE.
In May 2013, Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for thousands of human rights abuses committed during his 1980s dictatorship, but the historic verdict and accompanying 80-year prison sentence were overturned just 10 days later, purportedly due to errors in process.
During the trial, almost 100 witnesses testified over counts of rape, infanticide and the destruction of crops to induce starvation.
Rios Montt's defense team has pursued a deliberate strategy of delays in order to avoid having their client stand trial for charges of genocide once again. The re-trial was intended to begin in January, but a series of procedural setbacks and defense tactics have posed major setbacks to the process getting underway.
General Efrain Rios Montt (C) announces his military coup, Guatemala City, March 23, 1982. | Photo: File
Rios Montt's military regime carried out a scorched earth campaign, largely against the country’s indigenous population, which marked one of the bloodiest periods of Guatemala's 36-year civil war. The former despot is accused of killing at least 1,771 Guatemalans in the area of Ixil, committing 1,400 human rights violations, and displacing tens of thousands of indigenous people.
Human rights defenders have voiced concern over the repeated postponement of the trails, stressing the urgent need for the thousands of victims of civil war and genocidal violence to see justice.
For Reyes, human rights defenders are as prepared now as they were with the first victory against Rios Montt in 2013 to seek justice.
“As prosecutors, we are ready to go to trial and to prove that yes, it was genocide in Guatemala.”