Peace and Justice Update - May 3, 2013 - Volume 33, Number VI
Latin America and the Caribbean
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- COLOMBIA - On hiatus
- CUBA - On hiatus
- HAITI - On hiatus
Rios Montt Trial Resumes
The trial of former Guatemalan president Efraín Rios Montt resumed April 30 2013, after a 12-day suspension. The trial was suspended when it was deemed that Judge Carol Patricia Flores was wrongfully recused from the trial in 2012.
There had been indications that Flores would set the trial back to November 2011, rendering over 100 witness and expert testimonies useless. However, the case was returned April 29 to Judge Yassmin Barrios, the chief of the three-justice panel that is presiding over the trial. Judge Barrios announced that the trial would resume on April 30, with an immediate two-day recess in order for a new defense lawyer to become familiar the case. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court ruled that Flores must resolve the issue of incorporating previously dismissed defense evidence that was now admissible, before her 24-hour deadline to return the case to the panel.
Both former defense lawyers walked out of the trial on the morning of April 18, arguing that the trial had been annulled. Both defendants, Rios Montt and former military chief of staff Jose Rodriguez Sanchez, were assigned public defenders to represent them. Rios Montt rejected his public defender and brought back one of his lawyers from the beginning of the trial.
Francisco Garcia Gudiel took over as Rios Montt’s lawyer, despite the fact that he was ordered off the case by the judges on the first day of trial. Garcia Gudiel was ordered off when he called for the three judges on the panel to be removed and indicated that he would continue to advocate for such action.
Garcia Gudiel has also threatened to have an investigation conducted against Judge Barrios for abuse of authority and violating the constitution. Garcia Gudiel claims that when he was removed from the case, Rios Montt was left without an attorney. This situation was already addressed, however, when the Constitutional Court ruled April 23 that Rios Montt’s rights were compromised for that one day. Consequently, the testimonies by the prosecution that day, as well as the first few from the following day before Rios Montt had an attorney of his own choosing, have been ruled inadmissible.
During the suspension, public opinions as to whether or not the trial should continue varied greatly. Some political and social leaders advocated for the trial to resume, while others voiced their concerns that the trial threatened Guatemala’s stability. The U.S. government urged Guatemalan authorities to ensure that the trial be transparent and impartial, while U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp stated that the trial was important not just for Guatemala, but for the entire world as well. The UN and several Nobel Peace laureates, including Guatemalan Rigoberta Menchu, advocated that the trial resume.
By Ashley Vigil. Please send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.