Guatemalan Constitutional court voids Rios Montt genocide conviction

Rios MonttOn Monday, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned the “genocide and crimes against humanity” conviction of former military dictator Efrain Rios Montt, 86.

Montt was convicted on May 10, and sentenced to 80 years in prison.

In a two-to-one decision, Guatemala’s highest court ruled that Montt’s conviction is null and void and ordered the judges who had sentenced him, to comply with its ruling within 24 hours.

Rios Montt, however, is not yet out of the  woods for his alleged role in the killing of 1, 771 members of the Maya Ixil population during his 1982-83 rule.

Since there was a dispute about which judge should hear the case, the court ordered a new trial  to resume with effect from April 19, thereby invalidating everything that had transpired after that date.

Montt’s attorneys filed a number of appeals at the Constitutional Court, when the judges halted the case in April.

One of  Rios Montt’s attorneys, Francisco Garcia, was reinstated on the case, after he walked out of the proceedings, calling it “an illegal hearing.” When he left the courtroom, this left Rios Montt undefended for a short while, because he rejected an offer to have a public defender sit on his case.

But Garcia, once he was reinstated on the case, continued with his effort to have the judges recuse themselves, but they continued with the hearing.

The judges on the Constitutional Court held that the case should have been halted until the issue of reclusal was resolved officially.

Rios Montt only spent a few nights in prison, before he was removed and taken to a military hospital, where he was treated for respiratory and prostate problems.

With the assistance of the United States, Rios Montt seized power in a bloodless coup in March 1982, but was toppled from power in August 1983.

His 17-month rule has been listed as one of the bloodiest period during the Guatemalan civil war that lasted from 1960 to 1996, during which period an estimated 250,000 persons were killed or disappeared.

Rios Montt had avoided  trial, because he was a member of Congress. But after he left the legislature, a court ordered him to stand trial last January. His case opened in Guatemala City on March 19, 2013.

During the trial, more than 100 witnesses took the  stand, detailing how the army, under Rios Montt’s instructions,  had slaughtered, raped and pillaged their villages, because it suspected them to be sympathetic to the leftist guerrillas fighting against the government.

But despite those reports, US President Ronald Reagan hailed the dictator as “a man of great personal integrity,”  who was trying to restore democracy to Guatemala.

Reagan made the remarks in San Pedro Sula, on December 4, 1982, while on a visit to Honduras.

“I have assured the president that the United States is committed to support his efforts to restore democracy and to address the root causes of this violent insurgency,” Reagan said.

Reagan said that Rios Montt wanted to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and that his administration would do all it can to support Rios Montt’s progressive efforts.

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