NISGUA continues live coverage of the trial in Guatemala of Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity.
Yesterday, May 2, was the second day of genocide trial proceedings after an almost 2 week suspension. Moving forward at breakneck speed the first 5 weeks, the trial has not quite gotten back on its feet since reconvening after the defense counsel walkout and lower court ruling halted proceedings on April 19. At the moment the trial was temporarily suspended, only video evidence, 6 witnesses and concluding arguments remained before the judges would deliberate on the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity against Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez.
The day started with defense counsel Francisco García Gudiel failing once again to produce witnesses as ordered by the court. Judge Jazmín Barrios allowed 45 minutes for the defense to produce their video evidence and ordered them to have witnesses ready by 1pm in the afternoon.
Almost two hours later, during which time the defense had problems burning their DVD and the court encountered technical problems with the viewing screen, the video evidence was finally entered into the proceedings. 3 videos, two photo montages and one live video, showed images and footage of the guerrilla, as well as graphic images of wounded soldiers. The gallery was silent as the videos were shown.
Judge Barrios then called for an early recess, until 1pm, at which time defense was ordered to produce their remaining witnesses. Gudiel announced to the press prior to the recess he would not produce any witnesses and at 1pm this statement was borne out.
Faced once again with the inability to proceed with the defense witnesses, Barrios went on to deliberate the repeated requests of the public defender, Otto Ramírez, to grant a trial continuance. Since first appearing in court on Tuesday as Rodríguez Sánchez’ court appointed public defender, Ramírez has asked several times for additional days to review the genocide trial documents. Yesterday morning, the court handed him the documents he had failed to pick up over the holiday. The documents, pictured below, only constitute half of the total trial documents.
|From left: José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez and his public defender Otto Ramírez. Stacks of trial documents obscure view of Efraín Ríos Montt, to the right.|
After deliberating, Judge Barrios granted the continuance requested by Ramírez, announcing the trial would reconvene on May 7. She once again ordered the defense, to produce their remaining witnesses. Barrios warned that if they do not appear, the court will make a decision regarding how to proceed.
Although it appeared court would be adjourned for the day, Gudiel interjected with a series of motions, first arguing for trial annulment and then asking for the recusal of Judge Pablo Xitumal. Judge Xitumal, Gudiel alleged, has a personal relationship with public defender Ramírez dating back to when they worked together in the Public Defender’s Office in Salamá.
After long deliberations, Judge Barrios announced that Gudiel’s motions were rejected and gave a brief explanation of the judges’ findings on the point of trial annulment. Then, for the first time since the start of the genocide trial, Judge Xitumal addressed the court.
There is no friendship between myself and Otto Ramírez Vazquez. The act of working together in the same institution does not signify friendship. I am an ethical person. I understand principles such as…prudence, judicial independence, truth, judiciality and solidarity. Also keep in mind that it is not the lawyer himself who is making use of this motion[to recuse]. It is malicious and in bad faith… I deserve respect, as do my colleagues and the people of Guatemala. I reiterate, I do not have any friendship with the lawyer Ramírez Vazquez. I have not had contact [with him] since October 2004, when I left my work as a public defender of the Public Defender’s Office and entered into the judiciary system as a judge.
Judge Barrios then took the time to read aloud various principles from the professional code of ethics for attorneys. Before closing the proceedings, she reiterated that “delaying strategies” continue to be a tactic used in the genocide trial courtroom. At this point Gudiel insisted in loudly repeating his previous motion to annul the trial, which were briefly deliberated and rejected before adjournment.
While court will reconvene on May 7, many questions remain regarding the fate of the trial. Will Ríos Montt’s defense produce the remaining witnesses or continue to use delaying tactics? Will appointed public defender Ramírez use these same strategies for his client Rodríguez Sánchez? Will lower or higher court rulings impact the trial? There are only six remaining defense witnesses and concluding arguments to be heard in order for the judges to deliberate and issue a verdict. The prosecution and judges have attempted to carry this out since April 19 and it remains to be seen what progress will be made next Tuesday.[UPDATE, May 4: The legal entanglements of the genocide trial continue as the Constitutional Court grants an injunction in favor of Moises Galindo, lawyer for Rodríguez Sánchez, ordering a suspension so defense evidence can be integrated. The disputed evidence was integrated into the proceedings on April 5. Defense lawyers and media interpret this resolution to mean the trial is suspended, while lawyers for the survivors state the resolution does not mean suspension of the proceedings. Lawyer Hector Reyes states this is only a provisional injunction and there are other relevant motions yet to be resolved. Edgar Pérez states only procedural issues are suspended while the injunction is in process, not the hearings. Regardless, the trial is convened for May 7, when no doubt more will be revealed.]
NISGUA has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, and their lawyers, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action since 2000. We will continue to bear witness to the truth and bravery of these survivors throughout this historic trial. To bear witness with us, stay tuned to our ongoing live Twitter coverage @NISGUA_Guate, like our Facebook page and sign up for email updates.