“We’re motivated to come here – come and listen, to see whether or not there will be justice in Guatemala.”
Abner Elias, Board member, Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR)
Today, the genocide retrial against former head of military intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez moved into powerful closing arguments, where plaintiffs synthesized key points in the multi-year trial to prove that Rodríguez Sánchez played a critical role in carrying out genocide against the Ixil people. As head of military intelligence under Efraín Ríos Montt’s 1982-1983 dictatorship, Rodríguez Sánchez was responsible for classifying the entire Ixil population as an internal enemy and helped develop and carry out the military strategies that targeted them.
Human rights lawyer Edgar Pérez, a founder of the Human Rights Legal Clinic and the lawyer representing survivor organization Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), began his closing remarks today by stating clearly and succinctly: “In Guatemala, genocide was committed against the Maya Ixil people.” He thanked the courts for traveling in February to Ixil territory in Nebaj to hear testimony from elderly witnesses and women survivors of sexual violence and, despite the fact that justice has been neither swift not prompt for the Ixil people, he lifted up the importance of this tribunal in hearing this case. Wearing Ixil traje in representation of and at the request of the AJR, he emphasized that the Ixil people have resisted oppression for over 500 years and it is their resilience that has allowed them to continue in this long legal battle for justice.
Rodríguez Sánchez was first prosecuted alongside Ríos Montt in 2013, but was absolved in the verdict that convicted Ríos Montt of genocide. After the sentence was overturned, however, he faced a retrial. Through several years of stall tactics on the part of the defense and multiple legal complications related to Ríos Montt’s declining health, the trial against Rodríguez Sánchez is now nearing a verdict. Plaintiff organizations have continued to focus on building a strong case that shows the crucial role that military intelligence played during the armed conflict, and as Edgar Pérez explained in his concluding remarks, the responsibility Rodríguez Sánchez bears for having defined the Ixil people as an internal enemy.
Edgar Pérez continued by referencing witness testimonies given throughout the genocide trial that described the many ways the military attempted to destroy the Ixil people, through forced displacement, massacres, sexual violence, burning of crops and homes, continued persecution once people had fled, and the forced removal of children from their homes where they were stripped of their culture and language. Rodríguez Sánchez was both responsible for giving orders that this level of violence take place and was privy to detailed intelligence reports that proved it was being carried out.

National political crisis unfolding as the trial continues

On August 31, surrounded by soldiers, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced that his government would not renew the mandate for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an UN-backed anti-corruption body founded to investigate parallel structures of power established during the armed conflict, and which have endured since. CICIG is currently investigating Jimmy Morales for illicit campaign financing. People immediately took to the streets in protest. On September 4, he prevented CICIG head Ivan Velásquez from re-entering Guatemala in a move that many are considering to be in direct violation of orders from the Constitutional Court. In addition to the many important cases of corruption that the CICIC has investigated – including against former president Otto Pérez Molina and former VP Roxanna Baldetti – the UN body has played a pivotal role in opening the door for high-profile cases like the genocide trial to advance. Upon the recommendation of the former head of CICIG, important reforms were made to the Guatemalan judicial system that better articulated specific crimes related to corruption and a series of courts were created in Guatemala City that could hear high-risk cases. The High-Risk Crimes Court A, B, and C have now heard dozens of cases related to massacres, crimes against humanity, genocide, and other major human rights violations.

A verdict on the horizon

Héctor Reyes, a lawyer for the co-plaintiff Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH), also gave his concluding remarks today. Together with Edgar Pérez, Héctor Reyes asked the courts to find Rodríguez Sánchez guilty and sentence him to 50 years in prison for genocide and 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity. The next scheduled date in the genocide trial is on September 12, when Rodríguez Sánchez’s defense lawyer is expected to give her concluding remarks. A verdict is expected on September 26.
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