“We can’t allow the massacres in our communities to remain in impunity. We’ve already achieved our sentence, but we’re ready for it to be declared a second time because we know there was genocide.” – Julia Cortéz, spokesperson for the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), plaintiff in the genocide case.
Questions surrounding ex-general Ríos Montt’s health and mental capacities took center stage on Thursday during attempts to restart the Guatemala genocide trial, ending in a court order to intern the former dictator for ten days at the Federico Mora psychiatric hospital. Judge María Eugenia Castellanos, president of the High Risk Crimes Court Tribunal B, ordered Ríos Montt to undergo a physical and psychiatric review to determine whether he is mentally fit to be re-tried. This order was undermined by a series of legal actions by the defense; the first, a habeas corpus filed with a separate court, which halted the transfer scheduled for Saturday, July 25. Ríos Montt was eventually granted the right to be evaluated in a private facility.
The July 23 decision came after 8 hours of fits and starts in the proceedings due to a procedural delay in the morning, multiple defense arguments that the ex-general was unable to move or stand trial and technical problems with the internet teleconference in Ríos Montt’s home. The Public Prosecutor slammed the INACIF (National Forensic Institute) report issued two weeks ago, claiming Ríos Montt is unfit to stand trial, or even be re-evaluated. The report describes that at the time of the evaluation, Ríos Montt was under the influence of medications which could present a serious health risk to the 89-year old, including Olanzapine (anti-psychotic), Tramadol (opiod) and Valdure (analgesic). Other anomalies in the INACIF report were the use of a psychological and not psychiatric methodology, and that Ríos Montt’s private physician and his daughter, presidential candidate Zury Ríos, were the only people present at the evaluation.
After a long deliberation, the tribunal ordered the ten-day internment at the state-run mental health facility for a full physical and psychiatric evaluation. That Ríos Montt was ordered to Federico Mora, a state mental health facility with a reputation for its poor conditions
, caused surprise in the courtroom.
That Saturday morning, the Public Prosecutor and National Police arrived at Ríos Montt’s home to carry out the order issued by Tribunal B. However, the defendant’s lawyers appeared with notification of a last-minute habeas corpus, provisionally approved by the Femicide Appeals Court, which sought to prevent his transfer by requesting a personal appearance in court. The same Femicide Court rejected the request just four days later, but the defense immediately filed and was granted another appeal with a separate court that once again stalled Ríos Montt’s transfer to the state facility and instead ordered his internment in a private hospital.
All parties went back to court on August 4 at which time the Tribunal B upheld the ruling by the lower court by agreeing to allow Ríos Montt to be evaluated at a private facility. In a hearing scheduled for August 18, the Tribunal B will evaluate the results of the new psychiatric examination and determine if Ríos Montt is mentally fit to stand trial.
This is the second attempt to restart the trial after the Constitutional Court overturned the 2013 verdict sentencing Ríos Montt to 80 years in prison for crimes against humanity and genocide against the Ixil people. Judge recusal motions and claims that Ríos Montt is unfit to stand trial have been the primary strategy of the defense in stalling the opening of the second public hearing. Until the issue of Ríos Montt’s evaluation is resolved, the 2nd public hearing of the genocide is stalled.
For more information about the INACIF report, read the response from survivors after the report was issued.
Ongoing accompaniment and international observation is being requested by both the survivor organization and their legal teams for the re-trial.
NISGUA, through the international coalition ACOGUATE, has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness’ organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation since 2000. Follow NISGUA_Guate on Twitter for live updates.