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Urgent: The Trial of Efrain Rios Montt & Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez: 04/20/2013

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[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.

Phil Althouse


High court to decide on Guatemala genocide trial

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/18/3352365/guatemalan-judge-orders-ri...

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:phil2495@gmail.com]
Sent: Saturday, April 20, 2013 8:07 AM
Subject: The Trial of Efrain Rios Montt & Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez: 04/20/2013

Greetings:

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.

Best,

Phil Althouse
(216) 383-0352
(502) 3258-6281 (cell Gt)

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The Trial of Efrain Rios Montt & Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez
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From: Open Society Justice Initiative [mailto:info=justiceinitiative.org@mail40.wdc01.mcdlv.net] On Behalf Of Open Society Justice Initiative
Sent: Saturday, April 20, 2013 4:02 AM
To: phil2495@gmail.com
Subject: The Trial of Efrain Rios Montt & Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez: 04/20/2013

You are receiving this email because you signed up for updates from the The Trial of Efrain Rios Montt & Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez Website.

Tribunal Says Annulment Order is Illegal, Suspends Trial Pending Review by Constitutional Court

Apr 19, 2013 09:08 pm by Kate Doyle

Despite the uncertainty caused by Judge Carol Patricia Flores’s resolution on Thursday vacating the genocide proceedings, the tribunal reconvened briefly on Friday, April 19, so that the three-judge panel could issue a statement making clear that the trial would continue.

The large courtroom in Guatemala’s Palace of Justice was full to overflowing on the morning after the dramatic developments that threatened to put an end to the trial. Dozens of people who arrived after 8 am were turned away for lack of space. The prosecution table was crowded with lawyers and querellantes (representatives of the civil parties), while on the defense side of the chamber sat the accused, Efraín Ríos Montt and Jose Rodríguez Sánchez, sitting alone without their attorneys.

U.S. Ambassador Arnold Chacon was present in the courtroom, as were officers from other foreign embassies. Francisco Dall’Anese, head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), arrived and sat in the first row. (CICIG released a statement on Thursday expressing concern about a recent spate of paid advertisements, news supplements and broadcasts that condemned the genocide case and warned of possible violence).

By the time Judge Yazmín Barrios and her two colleagues arrived, the atmosphere in the packed chamber was electric with anticipation. Barrios read from a prepared statement. She declared, “We do not accept the resolution emitted by Judge Patricia Flores.” The courtroom broke into cheers and applause. Barrios waited and then thanked the spectators, asking them to permit her to finish.

Barrios said that the tribunal has complied with the order of the Constitutional Court by incorporating the evidence proffered by the defense, and that the order to annul proceedings was carried out in an illegal manner. “We will not permit the infringement of this tribunal’s independence. We are not obliged to comply with an order that violates our jurisdiction. We obey the Constitution, and the Constitutional Court is the only instance that can decide to annul a trial. This is content of our resolution.”

Barrios then declared that the trial would be temporarily suspended so that the Constitutional Court could resolve the legal issue at stake.

Prosecutor Orlando López Orlando requested that in light of the failure of the defense attorneys to appear, the court designate public defenders to represent the accused. After a brief conference, the judges agreed. Some spectators sitting near the defendants began to hiss.

As the judges stood up to leave, Barrios said into the microphone, “The tribunal appreciates your confidence in the justice system.”

The courtroom erupted into wild applause and chants of “Justice! Justice! Justice!” “Todos somos Ixiles!” (We are all Ixiles!) Judge Barrios, with her colleagues flanking her, stood impassively as the spectators cheered, and then crossed her arms in front of her chest as though sending a hug to the crowd andnodded her head in acknowledgment. The hearing was over.

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Rights Groups Urge Completion of Rios Montt Trial
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Rights Groups Urge Completion of Rios Montt Trial

Apr 19, 2013 05:01 pm by admin

NEW YORK—Four international legal and human rights groups are together urging all concerned to ensure that the current trial in Guatemala of former president Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity proceeds with due respect for judicial independence.

The four are: the Open Society Justice Initiative, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

The trial of Ríos Montt, a former general who ruled Guatemala from 1982-3, opened in Guatemala City on March 19. Together with Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, his former head of military intelligence, Rios Montt faces charges of genocide and other crimes arising from atrocities against members of the country’s Mayan Ixil population under his rule.

The four groups note with particular concern the decision on Thursday, April 18, by a first-instance judge, Carol Patricia Flores, to annul the trial court proceedings so far, which have included prosecution testimony from over 100 relatives and survivors of violence, as well as testimony from defense expert witnesses.

In announcing the annulment, Judge Flores cited a Constitutional Court ruling concerning the admissibility of evidence, although the trial court already admitted the evidence ordered admitted by the Constitutional Court.

Guatemala’s attorney-general Claudia Paz y Paz has said that Judge Flores’ annulment ruling is illegal.

This morning, Friday, April 19, the judge presiding over the Rios Montt trial, Judge Yazmin Barrios, also rejected as illegal the order to annul the proceedings. But she officially suspended the process pending a Constitutional Court review of the legality of the annulment ruling.

Paul Seils, Vice President of ICTJ said, “The decision by Judge Barrios is a courageous and legally correct response to this blatant attempt to subvert the legitimate pursuit of justice by the victims of horrendous crimes. The Constitutional Court must rule without delay on the legality of the order to annul the trial, and allow this historic trial to conclude as it should.”

The Justice Initiative, ICTJ and CEJIL also express their concern about President Otto Perez Molina’s public endorsement this week of a statement signed by several leading political figures and former government officials, which included the assertion that a finding of genocide in the case would endanger Guatemala’s peace process.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative, said: “It is imperative both for the rule of law in Guatemala and for lasting reconciliation that the legal process continues without inappropriate external pressure. By addressing its history, Guatemala will join other countries around the world that have sought justice and accountability for the gravest human rights abuses.”

Viviana Krsticevic, executive director of CEJIL, added: “Investigations and prosecutions play a critical role in helping societies come to terms with historic human rights abuses. This process can only strengthen the rule of law in Guatemala.”

The Rios Montt trial marks the first prosecution of a former head of state for genocide in a domestic court.

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Defense Attorneys Walk Out of Trial in Protest
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Day 20: Defense Attorneys Walk Out of Trial in Protest; Preliminary Court Judge Annuls Trial as Attorney General Calls Action Illegal and Promises Legal Challenge

Apr 19, 2013 07:11 am by Kate Doyle

On the afternoon of Thursday, April 18, in an extraordinary turn of events, the genocide trial of Efraín Ríos Montt and José Rodríguez Sánchez was brought to a halt when Judge Carol Patricia Flores of a court of First Instance declared the proceedings null and invalid. Stunned prosecutors denounced the verdict and immediately began preparing to file several motions to reverse the decision. Judge Jazmín Barrios, president of the tribunal overseeing the genocide trial, announced the trial would go ahead on Friday morning despite the ruling. And by the close of the day, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz declared the ruling “illegal” and vowed to use every measure available to stop it.

The long, strange and confusing day began in the morning with a different unexpected development, when the entire defense team representing the two co-defendants managed to shut the trial down within several hours of its start by abandoning the courtroom en masse, leaving their clients sitting at the defense table without legal representation.

That dramatic gesture took place before a packed and expectant courtroom. There were more than one hundred representatives of the Ixil and other Mayan communities present – many of them members of the Association of Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), which is part of the prosecution team. Every day this week an increasing number of people arrived to observe what were believed to be the final days of the trial. Well-known Guatemalan human rights advocates such as Rigoberta Menchú, Frank La Rue, Aura Elena Farfán, Helen Mack and Patricia Yoj Popul have been joined by international observers including delegations from the National Lawyers Guild of the United States and the Center for Accountability and Justice, a group of Latin American jurists involved in high-level human rights prosecutions (from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Peru), foreign ambassadors, law professor Naomi Roht-Arriaza, international attorney Almudena Bernabeu, and many more.

Families and friends of the accused were also present, including Zury Ríos Montt de Weller, the general’s daughter; Zuelma Paz de Rodríguez, wife of defendant Rodríguez Sánchez; and Ricardo Méndez Ruíz, leader of a right-wing organization called the Foundation Against Terrorism. Yesterday Víctor Manuel Argueta – a retired army officer who served as chief of the notorious Archivo military intelligence unit under Ríos Montt – made an appearance.

Unlike previous days, every defense attorney was present and accounted for when the three judges entered the room: Marco Antonio Cornejo, Danilo Rodriguez, Francisco Palomo, and Luis Alfonso González Marroquín for Ríos Montt, and Moisés Galindo and César Calderón for Rodríguez Sánchez.

Judge Yassmin Barrios, the tribunal’s presiding judge, began by asking about the results of the search for the witnesses proposed by the Ríos Montt defense team. The two previous days, the defense identified that they had been unable to locate many of their proposed witnesses, forcing the afternoon hearing to be suspended one day, and leading the defense to strike four of the remaining witnesses from their proposed list on the subsequent day. Judge Barrios notified the court that at least one person, Gonzalo Asturias Montenegro (former press secretary for the presidency during the Ríos Montt regime), could not be located and had not lived at the address given by defene attorney Cornejo for ten years.

Before the judge could continue with her inquiry into the witnesses, defense attorney Danilo Rodríguez asked for permission to speak. He then launched into a long and harsh accusation against the tribunal. He asserted that the court had violated the law by failing to abide by the April 3 ruling from the Constitutional Court, and that the trial should therefore be suspended. On April 3, the Constitutional Court ordered that documents and experts submitted by the defense be admitted into evidence. That ruling overturned the February 4 decision of Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez, who oversaw the preliminary phase of the trial, to reject much of the defense’s evidence on the grounds that it was submitted improperly. At the start of the trial, with this defense challenge to the Gálvez decision still undecided and under review, Judge Barrios decided to provisionally accept all of the defense’s evidence.

Rodríguez, reading from what appeared to be a prepared statement and facing the audience and the cameras rather than the judges, lambasted the tribunal as having usurped powers belonging to another chamber. He asserted that it did not have the authority to incorporate the evidence and continue hearing the case without waiting for the Constitutional Court’s order to be formally resolved. According to Rodriguez, even though Judge Barrios issued a preliminary resolution in the defense’s favor, the judges should have instead stopped the trial after the April 3 Constitutional Court ruling and sent the case before a prior judge overseeing preliminary matters, Carol Patricia Flores, for her resolution of the same question. Rodriguez asked for a postponement of the case.

Defense attorney César Calderón expounded further on the tribunal’s failure to halt the proceeding while the motion regarding evidence was pending, yelling into the microphone. According to Calderón, the Constitutional Court’s order indicated that Judge Flores needed to receive the case file to issue a resolution, but the tribunal did not provide Judge Flores with the file. He insisted that a motion would be filed against Gálvez who had committed errors, and that the competent judge in the case now was Judge Flores. He screamed: “You cannot start a criminal trial with a motion pending; it’s against logic. You can’t have two judicial processes at same time. This is an aberration in the judicial system of Guatemala.” Calderón’s voice began to crack as he continued to shout furiously and demanded the trial be annulled: “You are provoking a tremendous mess!”

After a brief recess for the tribunal to consider the arguments, Judge Barrios denied the motion for the trial to be suspended, insisting that the tribunal had followed correct procedures in admitting the evidence and continuing the trial.

Calderón again railed against the tribunal, shouting that the judges were disobeying a decision emitted by the most important judicial body court in Guatemala, the Constitutional Court. Again he demanded a “definitive suspension.” After a brief consultation with her colleagues, Judge Barrios again rejected the request.

In response Calderón announced, “We do not want to be participants in this illegal debate. We exercise our right to peaceful resistance. We are abandoning the premises because this trial should not be allowed to continue.”

With that, all six lawyers rose and walked out of the chamber, leaving their two defendants behind. Families and supporters of the accused stood and applauded forcefully. Judge Barrios shouted over the din to stop the men, and called on the police and court officers present to prevent them from leaving. Whether or not they heard her in the melee was unclear, but no one moved to stop them.

The courtroom was buzzing with the shock of seeing the defense abandon the case. Judge Barrios asked for quiet and insisted that the accused had the right to legal representation. She urged defendants Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez to call their lawyers and request their return. “Defense lawyers must remain until a sentence is pronounced,” she said and declared that if the lawyers refused to participate, the court would appoint public defenders.

With that, the trial was adjourned.

The Court of the First Instance High-Risk A (Mayor Riesgo A) hearing before Judge Flores was scheduled to begin at 2 pm. Prosecutors and the defiant defense lawyers, having returned for the afternoon hearing, all took their places, and hundreds of people poured into a chamber designed to hold 100.

In a dramatic and unexpected decision, Judge Flores said the tribunal’s decision to continue the hearings after the April 3 Constitutional Court ruling was incorrect. She resolved that the genocide trial was “annulled” and that the process had to return to the stage it was at on November 23, 2011.

Many assumed that this would be a simple procedural hearing. Since the evidence in question had already been incorporated into the trial, Judge Flores could have recognized the tribunal’s compliance with the Constitutional Court’s order. Instead the hearing was a swirl of legal machinations.

As Judge Flores began reading her ruling, she made reference to many of the countless appeals and motions that have dogged the genocide case, in addition to the April 3 decision by the Constitutional Court. In 2011, defense lawyers had asked that Judge Flores be recused from the case against Rodríguez Sánchez, accusing her of being partial. Civil party CALDH had filed a successful motion objecting to the request for recusal on November 23, 2011, something Judge Flores brought up several times during her hour-long address.

The judge’s resolution stunned many in the courtroom. Edgar Pérez, representing victims group AJR, asked Flores directly, “How can you do this to the victims?” He reminded her that they had been waiting thirty years for justice, and that both the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights and the Guatemalan Constitution guaranteed the right to a speedy trial. The ruling left the victims in a state of “defenselessness and impunity.” Pérez asked that Flores withdraw her ruling.

Prosecutor Orlando López told the judge that she had “made a mockery of the victims, and a mockery of justice.” An ongoing judicial process could not be legally blocked. He pointed out that the ruling by the Constitutional Court did not in any way indicate that the case could be returned to an earlier phase and restarted, and said she had overreached in her interpretation of the court’s order.

When the defense lawyers began to speak, a group of dozens of Ixil women who had arrived at the courtroom together got up quietly and walked out.

The judge agreed that the situation was “lamentable” but said she had no choice but to suspend the genocide trial. “I am not denying access justice to victims and I am not mocking them. I am resolving what corresponded to me to decide.” In a veiled reference to Judge Gálvez, she blamed the decision to annul on the “ineptitude” of someone else, “someone who doesn’t know the law.” She asserted that was simply complying with the Constitutional Court’s ruling.

As the courtroom began to break up and people moved toward the door, Maryelena Bustamante, whose brother Emil was forcibly disappeared in 1982, began to scream, “Injustice! Ríos Montt is an assassin!” Court police moved around her to get her out of the courtroom and some of the defendants’ supporters chanted jokingly “Why not shoot her? Why not shoot her?” (¿Porque no la disparan?)

Several hours after the hearing, Guatemala’s Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz held a press conference and accused Judge Flores of issuing an “illegal ruling” by ordering the halt to the genocide trial. She said the Constitutional Court ruling of April 3 ordered the admission of evidence on behalf of the defense, not a stop to the proceedings. Paz y Paz said her office would act immediately to reverse the ruling.