PROCEDURE IN GUATEMALA
On 6 June 2001, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) launched a criminal complaint against Rios Montt for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for the massacre committed by military forces in 11 villages in 1982, wherein hundreds of civilians were killed. The complaint was directed against Efraín Rios Montt and four other former members of the junta: Egberto Horacio Maldonado Schaad, spokesman of the military junta from 23 March 1982 until June 1982; Francisco Luis Gordillo Martinéz, spokesman of the junta from June 1982 until 8 August 1983; Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores, Minister of Defence from 1 September 1982 until 8 August 1983; Héctor Mario Lopez Fuentes, chief of the army’s General Staff from 24 March 1982 until 21 October 1983. The AJR was joined by Guatemalan civil society organization Center for Human Rights Legal Action (Centro para la Accion Legal en Derechos Humanos, or CALDH) and attorney Edgar Perez.
In 2010, another complaint was filed regarding the massacre that took place in the “Area Ixil”.
On 26 January 2012, twelve days after Ríos Montt’s congressional term ended and with it his parliamentary immunity, Rios Montt was indicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with his term as de facto head of state. He was placed under house arrest pending his trial. On 17 March 2012, the prosecution issued a formal indictment against Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez. The accusation aimed 72 facts committed against the Mayan people of the Ixil Triangle involving 1’771 victims.
On 21 May 2012, a second charge of genocide was added to the indictment regarding the Dos Erres massacre where 201 civilians were killed between the 6 and 8 December 1982.
After several procedural debates, the trial against Ríos Montt finally started on 2 May 2013. On 8 May 2013, the prosecutor requested a sentence of 75 years in prison against Ríos Montt and his co-accused Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity. Ríos Montt pleaded not guilty of all charges. On 10 May 2013, Ríos Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison for genocide and to 30 years for crimes against humanity. In addition, the Court ordered his immediate detention. His co-accused, Rodríguez was acquitted of all charges.
However, on 19 and 20 May 2013, the Constitutional Court ruled that Ríos Montt’s due process rights had been violated and invalidated all proceedings that took place after 19 April 2013, effectively vacating the judgment. In May 2017 the Center for Human Rights Legal Action filed a complaint against three (now former) judges of the Constitutional Court arguing that they committed legal prevarication (breach of duty) when delivering this ruling.
On 25 October 2013 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a statement urging the State of Guatemala to ensure that the amnesty law does not prevent the investigation of the serious violations of human rights that took place during the armed conflict, nor the identification, prosecution and punishment of the responsible for these crimes.
Retrial proceedings were reinitiated on 23 July 2015. Based on a report by the National Institute of Forensic Sciences (Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Forenses, Ríos Montt was declared mentally unfit to stand trial.
After various interruptions, on 16 March 2016 Presiding Judge María Elena Castellanos declared in hearing that retrial proceedings in the Maya Ixil genocide case should start before High Risk Tribunal “B”, disregard pending motions. Ríos Montt was not present due to health conditions, while his co-accused, Rodríguez Sánchez, was present.
On 3 June 2016, the First Court of Appeals suspended the trial indefinitely Separate trials against on Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez resumed in 13 October 2017 before the High Risk Tribunal B following an order by the Constitutional Court. The case was separated in two distinct trials because it was found that Ríos Montt suffers from dementia and therefore special provisions should be applied in his case. These include holding the proceedings behind closed doors as opposed to public hearings, representation in court by his guardians or their legal representatives and no application of criminal sentence if found guilty. His defence team filed lack of jurisdiction and recusal motions against the Tribunal which were both dismissed.
On 31 March 2017, a new trial against Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the « Dos Erres » massacre was ordered.
Ríos Montt died on 1 April 2018, He was 91 years old.
PROCEDURE IN SPAIN
In December 1999, the Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation (Nobel Peace Prize laureate) launched a criminal complaint against eight Guatemalan militaries – amongst them General Rios Montt – for genocide, torture and crimes against humanity. The complaint was submitted to the Spanish authorities, as several Spanish citizens had been victims of the repression in Guatemala. On 30 June 1980 the Spanish embassy had been attacked and destroyed after about thirty demonstrators of a Maya farmers’ union had taken refuge there; 36 people died, among them the plaintiff’s father.
On 27 March 2000, Judge Guillermo Ruiz Polanca declared himself competent to take up the case. However, on 1 December 2000, the highest Spanish Criminal Court ruled that the proceedings had to be abandoned, as “the Guatemalan judiciary is capable of trying the case, thereby voiding the competence of the Spanish courts”.
In March 2003, the Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation filed an appeal against this decision. On 23 February 2003, the Appeal Court denied the Spanish courts competence to judge the genocide of the Maya Indians of Guatemala, but recognized their jurisdiction over the murder of Spanish citizens in Guatemala.
On 26 September 2005, the Spanish Constitutional Court rejected this decision. It asserted that according to international law, it was not necessary that there be Spanish victims in order to sit on judgement on international crimes. On 7 July 2006, a Spanish judge ordered Efraín Rios Montt and his seven co-defendants to be remanded in custody pending trial. An international arrest warrant was issued to that end.
On 14 December 2007, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court refused the extradition of Rios Montt and the other high-ranking officials claiming that Spain did not have jurisdiction over these cases.