International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Transitional Justice in Guatemala

Former Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt was charged and convicted in May 2013 for committing genocide and crimes against humanity against indigenous Ixil Maya of the Quiché region. However, before his 80-year prison sentence began his conviction was annulled due to “procedural technicalities” on the part of the prosecution. The 15 horrific massacres Ríos Montt was found guilty of resulted in the death of 1,771 indigenous people and the displacement 29,000 more.

His retrial opened at the beginning of January and has already been suspended, further delaying his second conviction and sentencing. His defense lawyers were able to challenge the partiality of one of the three judges on the Constitutional Court, and now a search for a new judge is underway. However, there are concerns that there is a lack of suitable judges to sit on such a high profile case, as his attorneys continue to file complaints against the remaining candidates. Additionally, the Constitutional Court is set to make a decision on a 1986 amnesty decree passed by former dictator General Mejía Víctores that would grant Ríos Montt immunity for the crimes committed during his rule.

This story serves as a prime example of the obstacles countries undergoing transitional justice face in their efforts to bring responsible parties to justice. Latin American countries especially, many of which have experienced military dictatorships in the last century, face the most difficult obstacles as many of these leaders have immense unchecked power and strong ties within the political elite. The ability for 88-year old Ríos Montt to continue to avoid his sentencing for the crimes he committed over 30 years ago is shocking and as his health continues to deteriorate, we begin to wonder if those affected by his crimes will ever see him brought to justice.

Article here.


One response to “Transitional Justice in Guatemala

  1. tlunn February 12, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    I think that this case, as well as the Cambodian case, highlight the dangers of inaction for decades after the fact. Perhaps the most obvious example of that is that perpetrators die before they can ever be tried. I think that is important to turn to the case of Cambodia to see further issues with this. As we discussed in class, there are large swaths of Cambodians who don’t know about or otherwise haven’t learnt much about the killings under the Khmer Rouge regime or even sympathize with the Khmer Rouge. This is likely, in some form, the product of such a timely process. With the trial so far removed from the actual happenings, even as relatively successful as the Cambodian one has been, it has not lived up to its potential. If nothing ever happens to Montt, we are likely to see a similar scenario in Guatemala. This can also be translated to conflicts and crimes around the world, emphasizing the importance of timeliness in transitional justice.

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