A retrial of the former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, accused of committing genocide during the country’s civil war, has been suspended.
Due to start on Monday (January 11), the retrial was to take place without Ríos Montt, who has been unable to attend court because of health problems.
AFP reported that defense lawyer, Jaime Hernández, told reporters outside the courthouse on Monday that the Guatemala City court “decided to suspend the start of the trial of former general Ríos Montt because of three pending petitions to resolve.”
The three petitions have been initiated by the defense.
Hernández told AFP, that the first petition argued against the trial going ahead because Ríos Montt is suffering from advanced dementia. The second requested that a judge who presided over the original trial in 2013 be recused, and the final petition asked that Ríos Montt’s trial take place separately from the trial of Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, the former dictator’s chief of intelligence. Rodriguez Sanchez retrial is due to take place concurrently with Rio Montt’s.
Both men are accused of genocide and crimes against humanity which occurred between 1982 and 1983, during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. It is alleged that the former dictator is responsible for the murder of 1,771 indigenous Maya Ixils, and of displacing 29,000 people.
In May 2013, Ríos Montt was found guilty and sentenced to 80 years in prison, 30 years for crimes against humanity, and 50 years for genocide.
Rodriguez Sanchez was acquitted of all charges in 2013, but is facing a retrial.
Ríos Montt’s guilty verdict was unprecedented. It was the first time a former head of state had been tried and convicted of genocide in a domestic court.
Speaking about the conviction in 2013, the director of Human Rights Watch, José Miguel Vivanco, said it “sends a powerful message to Guatemala and the world that nobody, not even a former head of state, is above the law when it comes to committing genocide.”
However, just 10 days later, Guatemala’s constitutional court overturned the verdict on the grounds that Ríos Montt’s right to due process had been violated.
The constitutional court’s decision came as a massive blow to survivors, victims’ families and human rights groups.
A Maya Ixil woman, Ana Caba, who fled her home during the war, told Reuters: “I don’t know what’s happening. That’s how this country is. The powerful people do what they want and we poor and indigenous are devalued. We don’t get justice. Justice means nothing for us.”
A retrial was set to take place in 2015, but it has since been repeatedly postponed.
Describe as “shameful” by Amnesty International, the decision to suspend the trial again has been met with criticism.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director, said: “By allowing Ríos Montt to evade the courts for decades, the Guatemalan authorities have been playing a cruel game with the victims of the tens of thousands of people who were tortured, killed, disappeared and forcibly displaced under his command and their relatives.”