Friday, May 10, 2013

Eighty Year Prison Sentence for Ex-Guatemalan Dictator (Updated)

Former Guatemalan strongman Efrain Rios Montt was sentenced on Friday to eighty years in prison after a court convicted him of genocide.

The 86-year-old ex-general thus becomes the first former Latin American leader ever found guilty of such a charge.

Rios Montt was convicted of ordering the deaths of 1,771 members of the Ixil Maya ethnic group during his brief time in the presidency between 1982 and 1983.

The historic verdict comes after weeks of harrowing testimony from hundreds of eyewitnesses to the horrors of one of the bloodiest periods in Guatemala's decades-long civil war.

The court's decision will likely be appealed by Rios Montt's attorneys who argued that he was blind to any human rights abuses during his rule.

Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, who came under fire after he publicly defended Ríos Montt, said earlier today that the government would abide the court's ruling.

The tribunal absolved José Rodríguez, the former Intelligence chief who served under Ríos Montt, of being complicit of human rights abuses.

Update below the page break...

Update: Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt was whisked away to prison on Friday night shortly after a court convicted and sentenced him for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Although Rios Montt claimed on the witness stand on Thursday that "It was never my intention or my goal to destroy a whole ethnic group," the three-judge tribunal rejected his assertion.

"He had full knowledge of everything that was happening and did not stop it," said Judge Yasmin Barrios as she delivered the court's verdict in a courthouse packed with some 600 people.  

Read more here:
"Mood inside courtroom after verdict was euphoria, grief, hope among Ixiles and other victims; those who supported Ríos Montt are very angry," tweeted journalist Xeni Jardin.  Despite the divisiveness  caused by the trial among the Guatemalan public, the country's government tonight reaffirmed President Otto Pérez Molina's comments "respecting the court's decision".

The verdict against Ríos Montt does not signal the end of the legal process since his attorney, Francisco García Gudiel, declared that he will appeal the ruling and possibly take the case to Guatemala's Constitutional Court.  Nevertheless, the verdict could be the start of trials against military officials accused of human rights abuses during the civil war that lasted from 1960 to 1996.  (Six former soldiers were convicted in 2012 and 2013 for participating in the Dos Erres massacre, which occurred during Ríos Montt's rule, and sentenced to over 6000 years in prison).

"It's historic for this country," said Guatemalan political analyst Martin Rodriguez to CNN en Español. "Surprising, because many of us remain incredulous that Guatemala's judicial system could handle a trial of this magnitude."   

The verdict could also have repercussions in Latin American countries where ex-military rulers and senior officials during the "Dirty War" period have gone on trial.  Former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, who has already been convicted in connection with the killing of prisoners and the kidnapping of children during his rule, is expected to provide testimony next week at a trial against twenty-five people accused of crimes against humanity.

Video Source - YouTube via user skylightpix ("Episode 2 of our Dictator in the Dock series on the genocide trial of General Ríos Montt, where a Maya Ixil witness testifies to the horrors committed by government troops in his village 30 years ago.")

Online Sources including Update - BBC News;; CNN; NBC News; Twitter accounts of the Guatemalan government and Xeni Jardin; Europa Press; The Guardian; Centro de Informacion Judicial (Argentina) 

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