New York—The Open Society Justice Initiative is joining with other international legal and academic experts to launch a new online project focusing on the genocide trial of Efrain Rios Montt, the former general who ruled Guatemala in the early 1980s. The trial opens March 19, in Guatemala City.
A new collaborative website, www.riosmontt-trial.org, will provide news, analysis and commentary from legal and academic experts, as well as human rights advocates who will be attending the trial in Guatemala City.
In addition to the Justice Initiative, the site is supported by the International Center for Transitional Justice; the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL); the National Security Archive, a project of George Washington University; and Plaza Publica, a Guatemala-based current affairs and news website.
Rios Montt and of his former director of military intelligence, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez, face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, allegedly carried out during Rios Montt’s 17 months in power in 1982 and 1983.
James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative, said: “Guatemala stands at an important crossroads: it is poised to join a growing list of countries in the Americas which have begun the hard but necessary process of coming to terms with a scarred past."
"In the weeks ahead, people across the globe will be watching this trial for a signal that, after decades of impunity, a new stage in the struggle for justice has emerged.”
The two defendants are the most senior former members of the Guatemalan military to be prosecuted for crimes committed during the country’s 36-year civil war, which ended with 1996 peace agreements.
The trial marks the first time a former head of state has been tried for genocide in a domestic court. It is an important milestone in holding political and military leaders accountable for international crimes.
For Guatemalans, the case also presents an opportunity to create an accurate historical account of the gross human rights violations committed during the civil war, in a process that will reinforce the country’s young democracy.
Guatemala’s internal armed conflict is of historic brutality. A United Nations sponsored truth commission estimated that 200,000 died or were subjected to forced disappearance during the 36-year conflict. The commission found that state security personnel and paramilitaries were responsible for 93 percent of the violations, and that the state committed acts of genocide against Mayan ethnic groups, and was responsible for over 600 massacres, homicides, forced disappearances, and other crimes, with the victims largely from indigenous and rural communities. The three-year period between 1981 and 1983 accounts for 81 percent of the violations reported by the truth commission related to the 36-year conflict—with nearly half of all reported violations occurring during 1982.
In addition to coverage of the trial, the site will provide a forum for discussion of the issues at stake, underlining the high level of support for this process among advocates of international justice.
The Justice Initiative's trial monitoring websites are also currently following trials at the International Criminal Court, as well as the appeal of Charles Taylor before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague.