The Open Society Justice Initiative welcomed the conclusion on of the trial of Efrain Rios Montt, the former de facto president of Guatemala. The trial ended on Friday with the conviction of Rios Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity.
The charges against Rios Montt and his co-accused Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, then head of military intelligence, were based on massacres, forced displacement, torture, rape, and sexual assault perpetratedagainst Guatemala’s Mayan Ixil communities in 1982 and 1983, at the height of the country’s bloody internal armed conflict when Rios Montt was president as a result of a coup.
Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison by the three-judge panel.
James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, said:
“I welcome this historic verdict. This court in Guatemala has shown that local justice can hold even the most senior political leaders responsible for the gravest international crimes, despite the considerable political challenges that such prosecutions can face.”
Rodriguez Sanchez was found not guilty of all charges on the ground that he did not have command responsibility.
The trial marks the first time a former head of state has been prosecuted for genocide in a domestic, rather than an international, court.
The Justice Initiative urged all concerned to respect the verdict and sentence of the court, and to adhere to due process by addressing all outstanding procedural challenges through the appropriate judicial channels.
The organization also congratulated the Guatemalan government on ensuring the peaceful conduct of the trial, which was conducted in a highly charged political atmosphere, and urged continued attention to the security of all those associated with the trial process, including judges, lawyers, witnesses, and human rights defenders.