News / Americas

Human Rights Trial in Guatemala Could Set Global Precedent

Human Rights Trial in Guatemala Could Set Global Precedenti
X
April 27, 2013 12:08 AM
The continuing legal complications that threaten to annul the Guatemalan trial of a former military dictator have brought renewed attention to the difficulties of prosecuting high-profile human rights cases in developing countries. As VOA’s Bill Rodgers reports, the genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator General Efrain Rios Montt was greeted as a major step forward in accountability when it opened earlier this year, but its procedural problems have led to frustrations.

Human Rights Trial in Guatemala Could Set Global Precedent

Bill Rodgers
The continuing legal complications that threaten to annul the Guatemalan trial of a former military dictator have brought renewed attention to the difficulties of prosecuting high-profile human rights cases in developing countries. The genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator General Efrain Rios Montt was greeted as a major step forward in accountability when it opened earlier this year, but its procedural problems have led to frustrations.

Chanting “justice, justice,” protesters in Guatemala City reacted angrily to the suspension of the trial earlier this month.  

The protesters, mainly indigenous people, want the 86-year-old former dictator punished for the massacres of Mayan Indians during the early 1980’s that were part of a US-backed “scorched earth” campaign against leftist guerrillas.
 
Brutal conflict

An estimated 200,000 people were killed in the 36-year conflict that ended in 1996, most of them victims of Guatemala’s security forces.

General Rios Montt seized power in a 1982 coup and presided over the bloodiest period of the war during his 17-month rule.
 
Jose Miguel Vivanco heads the Americas program at Human Rights Watch. “The military tactics that he used during that period were clearly in violation of the basic standards of humanitarian law by not making any effort in distinguishing combatants from the civilian population,” he said.

Montt went on trial in March on charges of genocide for allegedly targeting an entire Mayan community in the country’s highlands in a campaign to wipe out support for leftist rebels.  

At least 17-hundred people were killed, according to prosecutors and witnesses.

As the Rios Montt trial drew to a close, it was suspended over procedural issues that could annul the process. Defense lawyers, who argued the general did not order the killings, welcomed the move.

“It's a very important precedent for the country in an important case such as this one," said defense lawyer Danilo Rodriguez.

Furthering human rights initiatives

But others say the maneuvering reflects the difficulties in prosecuting human rights violations in countries like Guatemala, where judicial institutions are subject to pressure.

Via Skype, international law expert Paul Seils said, "What we have at this point are the forces who are basically saying: ‘We will not be subjected to the rule of the law in the country. The rules of the country are for other people. We will not accept a statement that we were involved in genocide or crimes against humanity.'"
 
Despite the legal limbo, putting the ex-dictator on trial was unprecedented, the first time a former head of state has been tried for genocide by his own country’s legal system.

“To go after somebody who has been the quintessential representation of unlimited power, such as Rios Montt, and to charge him with human rights abuses, but not just any rights abuses, but with genocide, reveals tremendous courage but also some important change that the society has been going through,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch.

The U.S. State Department calls the trial “historic," and Friday urged Guatemala to ensure this case fulfills its domestic and international legal obligations. It also dispatched a top official to Guatemala City to consult about the judicial process.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Poll: Record Number of Mexicans Crime Victims in 2013

While government data shows murder rate has fallen in past 2 years, crimes such as kidnapping and extortion, which affect wider swath of the population, rise
More

OAS Asks Members to Take In Guantanamo Detainees

Organization of American States issues appeal for member countries to take in detainees from US military prison
More

Recession Looms Over Venezuela, Official Data Under Wraps

Empty store shelves, closed factory gates and idled construction projects tell their own story
More

US Judge Holds Argentina in Contempt Over Bond Payment Plan

In rare move, District Judge Thomas Griesa says country taking 'illegal' steps to evade his orders in longstanding dispute with hedge funds over defaulted debt
More

Brazil's Rousseff Extends Lead Over Silva in Elections

President Dilma Rousseff's expected victory margin over closest rival Marina Silva has surged to 9 percentage points
More

8 Killed in Peru Quake

The victims of the 4.9-magnitude tremor were all from the mountainous community of Misca, where many homes collapsed in the quake
More