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Spanish Judge Orders Arrest of Former Guatemalan Leaders

  • Jill Replogle

A Spanish judge Friday issued an international arrest order for two former Guatemalan military dictators, Efrain Rios Montt and Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores, along with five others accused of genocide during Guatemala's civil war.

The arrest orders came nearly a week after Spanish National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz cut short a trip to Guatemala.

Pedraz was in the country to investigate accusations of genocide and other war crimes committed by Guatemalan officials during the late 1970s and 1980s.

The case was brought before the Spanish justice system by Guatemalan Nobel Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu, whose father was killed during a government siege on the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City in 1980.

A ruling by Spain's constitutional court in 2005 allowed its tribunals to hear cases involving crimes against humanity, even if Spanish citizens were not affected.

During Pedraz's trip to Guatemala, he was scheduled to hear testimony from witnesses and the accused. However, lawyers for the defense presented a series of appeals and effectively blocked the hearings.

The director of the Rigoberta Menchu Foundation, Eduardo de Leon, said the failed attempt to hear testimony in Guatemala doesn't prevent the judge from continuing with the case.

De Leon said the legal process in Spain wasn't going to stop because the hearings couldn't take place here in Guatemala. The judge has weighed the situation and decided to proceed in this way.

Besides General Rios Montt, the judge ordered the capture and detention of former presidents Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores and Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, and four high-ranking security officials who worked under their administrations.

Lucas Garcia died in Venezuela in May, but was included in the order because the case file doesn't include official notice of his death.

During General Rios Montt's 18 months in power from 1982, his anti-insurgency campaigns killed thousands of people and destroyed hundreds of Indian villages.

Guatemalan authorities have said the generals cannot be extradited for political crimes committed during the country's 36-year civil war under a 1996 amnesty law.

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