On April 19, Judge Jassmin Barrios declared that the hearing in the trial charging Efraín Ríos Montt with genocide will be temporarily suspended while the Constitutional Court addresses the annulment of the trial by Judge Patricia Flores. Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz called the ruling illegal, and in a statement to the press, Ramon Cadena of the International Commission of Jurists has called for the Court to remove Judge Flores for her decision.
Judge Barrios, who also viewed the annulment as illegal, ruled that the case would only be temporarily suspended pending the Constitutional Court's ruling on the issue. Speaking to a packed courtroom, Barrios thanked the public for the "trust in the justice system." She then ordered that public defenders be named to represent the accused, as they had been abandoned by their attorneys.
The Public Prosecutor called the annulment a "mockery of the victims and a mockery of justice." Survivors from the Ixil, organizations, and hundreds of concerned citizens gathered last night in a vigil to demand justice.
International bodies also expressed alarm over attempts to derail the justice process including the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, The National Lawyers Guild, and a group of international human rights organizations. Read the statements here.
Background from NISGUA on Trial Suspension
In a hearing late Thursday afternoon, Judge Patricia Carol Flores of the First Court for High Risk Crimes "A" declared the annulment of proceedings carried out to date in the genocide trial against Ríos Montt and his former intelligence chief, General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez. Judge Flores' decision is a hard-line interpretation of a resolution emitted by the Guatemalan Constitutional Court (CC) earlier this month, despite Chief Judge Jazmín Barrios' affirmation that the current court overseeing the trial has already complied with the CC's decision.
Lawyer for the victims, Edgar Pérez, and the entire prosecution team requested the decision be reconsidered. Pérez protested, "Victims have waited 30 years. A fundamental right is being denied to them, the right to justice." The public prosecutor commented, "This decision is a mockery of the victims and a mockery of justice." Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz confirmed late Thursday evening that Judge Flores' resolution was in fact illegal. Judge Flores' attempt to annul the trial represents one more effort to uphold impunity for grave violations of human rights in Guatemala.
As of April 18, over 100 witnesses and 60 experts have testified. Some reports speculated that concluding statements might begin as soon as Thursday, April 18. Instead, Ríos Montt's lawyers insisted Judge Barrios suspend the trial, alluding to Judge Flores' pending resolution. When Judge Barrios stood firm in upholding the legal process, the entire defense team shocked the courtroom and abandoned the Guatemalan Supreme Court in protest.
Emilio Tojin, a former member of the AJR board of directors, responded to Judge Flores' decision and the day's proceedings, "Yesterday I was very happy because we were close to having the sentence. Unfortunately, the Courts of Justice have stomped on the constitution, but right now I feel excited because the lawyers are not saying we will stop here. We have to move forward with the struggle until the end. This is not going to be just half way finished."
A woman survivor and member of the AJR echoed confidence, "There are multitudes of victims by my side demanding that I speak out for justice and so I am going to speak out. In no moment will this [struggle] be abandoned. We have already made huge strides."
UPDATE: On April 30th the trial resumed. Guatemala’s highest court has yet to issue a clear statement on the legality of that decision, but it made several rulings last week that sent the case back to the chief trial judge, Jasmín Barrios, to restart proceedings.
More from NISGUA on their blog
Follow #GenocideGT on Twitter for the latest news and live tweeting from the courtroom.