Urgent: The Trial of Efrain Rios Montt & Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez: 04/20/2013
[Moderator's Note: This message was received by email and urges action. There are only 5 days left for action. I have included all information sent but arranged it in an order that is more coherent and informative. First are the news articles and after comes more commentary from the message-sender, Phil Althouse, including his contact information.]
This email was distributed to Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawaspikat Nation and Idle No More contacts across Canada. I encourage messages to the US State Dept. and Senator Brown’s office asking for support for the trial to continue to a conclusion and protection for the witnesses, the prosecutors and the judges.
High court to decide on Guatemala genocide trial
GUATEMALA CITY -- Judges in the landmark genocide trial of a former Guatemalan dictator asked the country's Constitutional Court to decide if the proceedings should continue, as a move to annul the case brought an international outcry that justice be served in the Central American country's long and bloody civil war.
The tribunal handling the trial, which advocates proceeding with the case, said it won't accept another judge's ruling that the trial of Efrain Rios Montt should start over at a point before charges were filed. The announcement Friday by Tribunal President Yasmin Barrios prompted a standing ovation in the courtroom, with shouts of "Justice! Justice!"
The Constitutional Court has 10 days to rule on the dispute.
Rios Montt, 86, is accused of overseeing the deaths of 1,771 Mayan Indians during the military dictatorship he headed from March 23, 1982, to Aug. 8, 1983, as part of a U.S.-backed "scorched earth" campaign aimed at wiping out support for leftist guerrillas.
He turned his back to the cheering crowd. "We have to wait and see what the Constitutional Court says," he told The Associated Press.
The trial had been nearing closing arguments on Thursday when Judge Carol Patricia Flores spoke up.
Flores had handled the case in its pre-trial stage, was recused in February 2012, then reinstated last week by the Constitutional Court. She ruled that all actions taken in the case since she was first asked to step down are now null, sending the trial back to square one.
The move caused an international outcry, with U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay registering her concern.
"This is a blow to the numerous victims of the atrocities committed during Guatemala's civil war who have been waiting more than 30 years for justice to be done," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Friday. Four international groups, the Open Society Justice Initiative, the International Center for Transitional Justice, Center for Justice and International Law and the Washington Office on Latin America, urged that that the trial continue.
Prosecutor Orlando Lopez also agreed with the tribunal's move to seek a ruling from the Constitutional Court, saying, "we can't put the victims who have already testified at risk."
Flores' ruling was a surprise move to halt what outside observers had considered a professional trial carried out under due process of international law in a country known for its corrupt and incompetent justice system.
A U.N. truth commission said state forces and related paramilitary groups were responsible for 93 percent of the killings and human rights violations that it documented during the 36-year civil war, committed mostly against indigenous Maya. Yet until now, only low- or middle-level officials have been prosecuted for a war that ended in 1996.
Rios Montt is the most important official by far to go on trial, along with his former head of intelligence, Jose Sanchez.
Many speculated that Flores' ruling was politically motivated in a much-disputed trial, the first genocide case against a former president in Latin America. In weeks of testimony from victims, soldiers and experts, even current President Otto Perez Molina had been implicated in the massacres.
"We believe there are other factors that have violated this process," said Daniel Pascual of the United Peasants Committee.
Defense lawyers for Rios Montt stormed out of the court room on Thursday, arguing that the trial is illegal and needs to go back to the pre-trial phase as Flores ruled.
The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, a U.N.-sanctioned prosecution team created to improve the justice system, will initiate a legal case against Flores, possibly for malfeasance, said Francisco Dall'Anese, a former Costa Rican attorney general who heads the commission."If yesterday was a dark day, today the court has rescued the majesty of the judiciary," Dall'Anese said.The Nobel Peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu also supported the tribunal's position to continue with the trial. "We will ask the Inter-American Court for Human Rights for precautionary measures to guarantee the life and physical safety of each of the witnesses," Menchu said.
The court has heard the harrowing testimony of dozens of people who survived the military offensive. The trial against Rios Montt started in March after courts solved more than a 100 complaints and injunctions filed by the defense.
From: Phil Althouse [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Saturday, April 20, 2013 8:07 AM
Subject: The Trial of Efrain Rios Montt & Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez: 04/20/2013
You are receiving this email because I thought that you’d be interested in this information either because of your direct or indirect involvement in human rights advocacy of one stripe or another and because the Rios Montt proceeding is epic in the context of contemporary human rights law. I’ve limited the number of recipients of this email so feel free to share it with friends or colleagues and to contact me if you have any questions.
I was privileged to be part of a delegation from the Center for Justice and Accountability, an NGO based in San Francisco. Our group included Pat Sellers, an attorney from the International Criminal Court; Naomi Roht-Arriaza, a professor at Hastings College of Law and author of numerous works on international human rights law; Sandra Coliver, an attorney with the Open Society Institute, Almudena Bernabeu , international attorney for CJA; Scott Greathead, a partner at Wiggin and Dana, LLP; Kate Doyle, senior analyst at the National Security Archive; Alejandro Solis, formerly a judge in the Supreme Court of Chile; and Mary Jo McConahay, a journalist who has written extensively about Latin American issues and author of Maya Roads, which examines political violence of Chiapas and Peten over the last 30 years, Kathy Roberts, Legal Director for CJA, and Pamela Merchant, Executive Director of CJA.
Rigoberta Menchu (Nobel Peace Prize laureate), Claudia Paz y Paz (Attorney General of Guatemala), Helen Mack Chang (Director of the Myrna Mack Foundation in Guatemala), Fredy Piccarelli (Dir. of the Guatemala Forensic Anthropology Foundation), and Gustavo Meoño (Corrdinator of the National Police Archives of Guatemala) were officially part of the CJA delegation and met with our group formally and informally.
The constitutional court has 10 days to rule on the dispute. I think that the Flores recusal was a clever set up . Ironic that she would be “reinstated” in the middle of a trial and for what purpose? A purportedly biased judge would remain off the case once a trial was underway. Or, the start of the trial would be delayed pending a decision on the appeal of a recusal if an appeal were possible. That’s pretty universal procedurally. To have a judge recused and then “reinstated” after a trial has started is extraordinary to say the least. The event smacks of back door political maneuvering which I suspect is coming from President Molina. I was told by a number of people not to expect too much from the Constitutional Court which has been accused of political bias.
Rigoberta Menchu’s intent to petition the Inter American Commission on Human Rights for precautionary measures is highly appropriate. There was consensus on the need for security precautions among folks in my delegation when we thought that the trial would proceed to judgment after which the prosecutors, judges and witnesses would be at risk. Now, if the trial were to be suspended for a lengthy period pending a decision by the constitutional court or started from scratch, there would be a much greater risk to witnesses who could be selectively picked off based on the strength of the testimony that they have given in the current proceedings. This is an extremely precarious situation for them.
The mechanism for precautionary measures is established in Article 25 of the Rules of Procedure of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. The Rules of Procedure establish that, in serious and urgent situations, the Commission may, on its own initiative or at the request of a party, request that a State adopt precautionary measures to prevent irreparable harm to persons or to the subject matter of the proceedings in connection with a pending petition or case, as well as to persons under the jurisdiction of the State concerned, independently of any pending petition or case. The measures may be of a collective nature to prevent irreparable harm to persons due to their association with an organization, a group, or a community with identified or identifiable members.
As an aside, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez (co-D, former head of military intelligence) stared at me for a minute or two during a break in the proceedings on my first day in the court room. Scary guy. His stare is icy cold-like death.
I corresponded with documentary filmmaker Pam Yates this morning. She asked me to mention her filmed moments inside the Ríos Montt trial called DICTATOR IN THE DOCK. It's here http://www.granitomem.com/genocide-trial/
Pam was at the trial daily and outtakes of her film “When the Mountains Tremble” were used as evidence to secure an indictment against Rios Montt issued by the Spanish Court and again in the trial in Guatemala.
(502) 3258-6281 (cell Gt)