Ten years have passed since genocide survivors filed cases against General Efraín Ríos Montt and members of his military high command. As a result of this investigation, in 2011, three former military officials—including a former president—have been arrested, andanother has been declared fugitive from justice.
On October 12, 2011, arrest warrants were issued for retired General and former de facto President Óscar Humberto Mejía Víctores, former intelligence chief General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, and former chief of operations General Luís Enrique Mendoza García. Rodríguez Sánchez was arrested and Mejía Víctores turned himself on October 24. Mendóza García, a graduate of the U.S.-run counterinsurgency training academy known as the School of the Americas, remains a fugitive.
Earlier this year, on June 17, 2011, retired General Héctor Mario López Fuentes was arrested, he has since been formally indicted for the charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and forced disappearance committed against the Maya Ixil people in the department of El Quiché. López Fuentes acted as Army Chief of Staff under the de facto government of Efraín Ríos Montt from 1982-1983.
Lawyers for López Fuentes and Mejía Víctores have argued that their clients are unfit to stand trial due to poor health. Both are detained in the Military Hospital in Guatemala City, and the legal processes against them remain open. Trials against the three arrested officials are expected to open in early 2012.
This marks the first genocide case in the Americas to be tried in a national court and the highest-ranking military officials to be charged for human rights violations in Guatemala. The Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) and the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH), alongside the Attorney General’s office are the primary plaintiffs in the case.
Guatemala’s President-elect and former General Otto Pérez Molina has publicly denied that the Guatemalan Army committed genocide, though he has stated that he will not interfere with cases in the justice system. Otto Pérez served as a commanding officer in the Quiché departmentduring the Ríos Montt regime.
Julia Cortez, legal representative of the AJR, reflected on the advance of the cases, “I am thinking about all of the people who have given their testimony, who spoke out and did not hide their truth. We will continue fighting against the genocide committed against the indigenous Maya people. We want justice.”
NISGUA has provided international human rights accompaniment to the AJR and CALDH since 2000. Through the Guatemalan Accompaniment Project, volunteers are trained as human rights observers, living and traveling alongside participants in the genocide cases as a form of non-violent protection and support.