On May 10, 2013, former Guatemalan de facto dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The conviction was the first in the world to charge an ex-head of state for genocide in the national court system of the country in which the crimes took place. This marked the culmination of 12 years of dedication and determination by the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) and their legal team, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH).
Just 10 days later, Guatemala’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, illegally voted in a 3-2 decision to annul trial proceedings that took place after April 19, 2013 – effectively overturning the historic sentence and sending the case back to a retrial. Guatemala’s legacy of impunity had once again reared its head: deeply rooted power structures undermine the will of the survivors, the competence of the judges, and the integrity of the process.
On April 1, 2017, Efraín Ríos Montt died under house arrest, with a guilty sentence against him, and awaiting the culmination of the retrial. On September 27, 2018, a three judge tribunal unanimously declared that the military committed genocide against Mayan peoples from 1982-1983, essentially confirming the validity of the original decision against Ríos Montt. However, the tribunal voted 2-1 to find José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, Head of Military Intelligence 1982-1983, not guilty. In her dissent to the 2-1 vote, Judge Sara Yoc Yoc declared “Who determined [the Ixil people] were the enemy? Who carried out the intelligence? HE DID!”