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Demonstration im Falle Rios Montt in Guatemala 11.05.2014
Image: Reuters

Former Guatemalan dictator appears before court on a stretcher

January 6, 2015

Undeterred by his claims of poor health, a judge in Guatemala City ordered Efrain Rios Montt to appear in court to answer war crimes charges. Hundreds of thousands were killed or went missing in 36 years of civil war.


Former dictactor Efrain Rios Montt was brought into court on a stretcher on Monday after his attempt to be tried in absentia was rejected by Judge Jeannette Valdez. Montt, along with his former intelligence chief, stands accused of genocide against indigenous Guatemalans.

Despite his laywer’s insistence that Rio Montt needed "absolute rest," a move human rights activists decried as a strategy to delay the ruling, Judge Valdez ordered police to fetch the 88-year-old former ruler, saying medical documents did not indicate that his health problems were high-risk.

Rios Montt, who ruled in the early 1980s in the midst of the Central American nation’s civil war, was originally found guilty in 2013 and sentenced to 80 years in prison. Ten days later, however, the country’s Constitutional Court declared a mistrial and called for a new trial be brought against the ex-dictator who has been under house arrest in the interim.

Massacres, disappearances, and a decades-long war

The accused is charged with ordering the army to carry out 15 massacres against the Ixil Maya people, resulting in 1,771 deaths. Rios Montt’s lawyers argue that he was unaware of the army’s mass killings. His fellow accused, Jose Rodriguez, who was acquitted in the first trial, arrived at the courthouse in a wheelchair.

"I want to put an end to this humiliation, this circus put together by NGOs that live off the conflict and international pressure," Rodriguez told news agency AFP.

Rodriguez was greeted by indigenous protestors, who were led by Nobel Peace laureate and native rights campaigner Rigoberta Menchu. "Genocidal killer! Justice is what we want, coward!" they shouted.

"We have already proved that there was genocide in Guatemala," said Hector Reyes, a lawyer representing the victims, adding that "we expect another sentence."

A UN report from 1999 revealed that some 200,000 people were killed or vanished without a trace during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war between military rulers and leftist rebels groups. An overwhelming majority of the human rights violations committed during the war occurred between 1978 and 1984. Rios Montt ruled the country from March 1982 to August 1983.

es/bk (AP, AFP, dpa)

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