This morning, the Constitutional Court (CC), Guatemala’s highest court, will hear arguments regarding the April 2013 decision by Judge Carol Patricia Flores to set the genocide case back to a pre-trial phase. The mid-trial ruling cited technical errors in the judicial process and stated that the case should return to November 2011, before Ríos Montt had ever been indicted.
Plaintiffs on the case, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action and the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), immediately appealed Flores’ ruling. One member of the AJR reacted to the controversial decision stating, “[Judge Flores] only wants to help impunity continue to reign in Guatemala and that is why we, the victims, have to break this noose of impunity, this beast that has for so long ruled Guatemala.”
If the CC upholds Judge Flores’ ruling, witness and expert testimony that formed the basis for the historic genocide sentence will effectively be erased and Ríos Montt will be free. After hearing arguments by the prosecution and the defense, the CC will have 5 days to come to their final resolution; however, the Court notoriously emits their decision late, leaving the involved parties and the public waiting in suspense.
The 13-year struggle of the survivors did not end with the Constitutional Court’s controversial decision to annul the genocide trial last May. Six months later, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation denounced the Guatemalan State for the denial of justice to the Maya Ixil people by filing a formal complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The complaint cited a number of deficiencies in the genocide trial process, including excessive delays and the denial of the right to justice of the witnesses who gave their testimony in court.
Meanwhile, Guatemala’s justice system continues to feel the impacts of the national and international struggle for historical memory, prompted by the groundbreaking genocide trial. The ongoing legal debate regarding the possibility of amnesty for Ríos Montt, despite national and international laws that prohibit amnesty for war crimes, is just one example. The decision on amnesty, which threatens to permanently undermine survivors’ decades-long work for justice, is yet to be resolved, as nearly one hundred judges have recused themselves from hearing the issue. Furthermore, the February decision to end current Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz’s term early has once again called into question the impartiality of the Constitutional Court and has instilled a sense of uncertainty as to the future of human rights cases in national courts.
|The AJR commemorates the one year anniversary of the start of genocide trial.
Photo: Cristina Chiqun, March 19, 2014
“When the trial started, I was pleased because I knew that the truth had reached the people of Guatemala, and not just Guatemala but the world. This made me satisfied because what we suffered was acknowledged… They were able to annul the sentence politically but historically no one will take it away from us, the sentence remains in our hearts. One year after the historic trial, we remain strong in order to keep fighting and demanding justice in Guatemala.” – Benjamín Manuel Gerónimo, Vice-President of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation