Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Un-trialled in Guatemala

James Elliot
April 23, 2012.

The Suspension of the Genocide Trial of Rios Montt Sheds an Unpleasant Light on the Current Incumbent and US Foreign Policy in Latin America.
The world was seeing something incredible. Unprecedented to all, unimaginable to most, and unbearable for the few in the dock: the brutal Efrain Rios Montt, president of Guatemala during its most brutal and bloody massacres in 1982, was on trial for genocide; the first former head of state ever to be tried by his own population for the crime.

The one thing this was not, was un-trialled. Not until last week anyway. The implication that the current incumbent, President Peres Molina, was also a key suspect in the purges of indigenous Mayans during Guatemala’s 36-year long civil war that saw almost 200,000 killed or ‘disappeared’, meant the trial was suspended.

“I am not doing this because I want to, but because it has been ordered by the constitutional court and the supreme court,” Judge Flores told the hearing. Guatemala’s Constitutional Court now has ten days to rule on the dispute, but the families of Montt’s victims and human rights campaigners are now afraid that the moment for justice has passed.

Rios Montt 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. As usual with the principles of international justice, the well-established evidence against Montt is now being disregarded because of the threat it poses to those in power.

Allan Nairn, an investigative journalist, told US media show Democracy Now that he was due to give evidence that would have directly implicated President Mollina, who Nairn has also accused of perpetrating atrocities. In 1982, Nairn interviewed a Guatemalan general named “Tito” on camera during the height of the massacres, a man who turned out to be Mollina.

With that news, the trial had to collapse. Like any smart President, Mollina clearly knows how to avoid trouble, and whilst he enjoys the same political immunity from court action that Montt used until 2012, he can sense that a court case may be waiting when he leaves office. Not one to sacrifice his own liberty for others’ justice, Mollina has pulled the plug on the trial and many have lost hope that Montt would be found guilty and sentenced.

This is another sad and sorry example of the weak and often irrelevant international justice system. Of the cases being heard at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, all relate to crimes that occurred on the African continent, none in Central America, despite their being no dearth of potential. Rios Montt, and his protector-in-chief Mollina, will join the likes of Suharto, Somoza and others to whom the rules of play do not apply.
Read the rest here.
Comment: And there I was surprised and thinking the trial will be a good thing and an unprecedented example of a Central American state taking a brutal dictator to task in court for the mass killings of Mayans.

It had the makings of a classic confrontation with the past.

I guess President Molina - a former high ranking military man himself - is not taking risks by making the past known in legal/official terms.  The inference is that too many political elites are weary of putting Rios Montt on trial.

How sad and infuriating at the same time.


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