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

Diplomats Work to Extend Israeli-Palestinian Cease-Fire

US Secretary of State John Kerry, diplomats from France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Qatar gathered in Paris Saturday to discuss crisis More

Photogallery US Defense Department Warns of Arms to Eastern Ukraine

‘Imminent’ delivery of Russian rocket launcher poses threat to civilians, US says More

Video Researchers: Africa Genetically Modified Crops Held Back by Scaremongering

GM crops offer best hope of increasing productivity and coping with climate change in Africa, according to co-author of Chatham House report 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.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

US Considers Screening Youth in Honduras for Refugee Status

Officials say children could be interviewed before they make dangerous journey to US border, as tens of thousands of children from Central America have done already this year
More

Video President Asks Central American Leaders to Help Stop Migrants

Obama tells presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras it isn't lack of compassion, but obligation to obey immigration laws that is prompting US to turn back many migrants
More

S. Africa Launches Campaign Against US Cuba Sanctions

African National Congress launches the Cuban Solidarity Campaign to work against long-standing sanctions
More

Honduran President Links Border Crisis to US Policy Divide

Human, drug traffickers 'perversely' exploit confusion about US immigration policy, Juan Orlando Hernandez tells reporters on Capitol Hill
More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US
More

House Republicans Present Border Plan for Child Migrant Crisis

Proposal, they say, offers alternative to emergency funding requested by President Obama to deal with massive influx of illegals
More