- Published: 18 December 2013
May 10th, 2013 because of a ruling by a Guatemalan court to for the first time condemn a dictator in Latin America for genocide and crimes against humanity, marks an historic day in the struggle against impunity.
The trial was a proof of the strength and the courage of the victims, who after three decades of institutionalized impunity and official denial of the facts, dared to denounce the systematic violence by the Guatemalan army before a national court.
It also constitutes a testimony of the courage of plaintiffs lawyers and human rights activists, prosecutors and judges who strove to bring the case to a successful conclusion, with a systematic campaign of institutional vilification.
The sessions of the trial, which lasted three months, were conducted in an adverse atmosphere, blurred by a media campaign directed against the members of the Court, public prosecutor and the victims, who were denounced as "judicial assassins" and "merchants of human rights", in which took part outstanding representatives of the Government and business elites, and accompanied by direct threats, intimidation and attempts for bribery, resulting in the passivity of the superior judicial instances, which would have been responsible for ensuring judicial independence against these unwarranted attacks.
The former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison. However, this ruling was overturned ten days later by three of the five justices of the Constitutional Court of Guatemala, exceeding their functions and in clear violation of the system of judicial recourse according to which it would have been necessary to appeale before the ordinary courts.
The cancellation of part of the judgment and the sentence adds to the legal injustice and will be a result of the trial, as it has been repeatedly before in numerous incidents, consciously or unconsciously, might lead to future annulments, is a flagrant violation of the right to truth, to justice and to reparations for the victims of genocide and of crimes against humanity. For this reason, we urge the Constitutional Court to reconsider and rescind its decision, respecting and complying with the Guatemalan legal system. We also urge the State of Guatemala to offer security guarantees to enable the judges to exercise their function in conditions of independence and impartiality in order to clarify the truth and punish those responsible for serious violations of human rights committed in the past.