Legal battles over Efraín Ríos Montt’s health have taken center stage over the past three months in the decades-long search for justice for genocide in Guatemala.
On August 25, the three-judge tribunal ruled that Ríos Montt is mentally unfit to stand trial due to chronic and irreversible dementia. The court ordered that Montt be assigned a legal representative to allow for a special trial to continue without the former dictator’s physical presence.
This decision comes after months of set backs and debates regarding Montt’s health. In July, his defense attempted to permanently stall proceedings by presenting a medical evaluation
claiming the former general did not have the mental capacity to stand trial. Given the fact that he was heavily sedated during the examination, the court dismissed the report and ordered him to undergo a full medical review
by state-appointed specialists. The new review came to similar conclusions, stating that Montt has vascular dementia in addition to various other physical ailments. While Montt’s defense attempted to use this new review as a reason to dismiss the case, the prosecution requested he be appointed a legal advocate in order for the retrial to continue.
This retrial, scheduled to begin on January 11, 2016, will take place behind closed doors, excluding the press and international and national observers. The court stated that the victims would be allowed to attend, but did not outline who is considered to be a victim in a case that involves the murder of 1,771 people in 15 massacres. Given the circumstances, this special retrial cannot result in a verdict that includes prison time; instead, if Montt is found guilty, he will likely be detained in a psychiatric facility.
In a decision disputed by both the defense and the prosecution, the judges refused to separate the cases of Ríos Montt and former head of military intelligence Rodríguez Sánchez, and instead, ruled that the men will continue to be tried for genocide and crimes against humanity together.
As this process drags on in a national justice system plagued with rampant impunity and corruption, NISGUA continues to stand with the victims and survivors in upholding the 2013 condemnatory sentence against a mentally-fit Ríos Montt. We honor the testimonies that led to the conviction and dignify the men and women who tirelessly continue to fight for justice.