LATIN AMERICA

Court orders former Guatemalan dictator to stand trial for genocide

The retired general ruled during one of the bloodiest periods in the country's 36-year civil war

Ríos Montt sits in court on Tuesday. / JORGE DAN LOPEZ (REUTERS)

Former Guatemalan military ruler José Efraín Ríos Montt, who is considered to have been one of Latin America's bloodiest dictators, will be retried on genocide charges and crimes against humanity, a judge ruled on Tuesday.

Upholding a lower court's decision from last year, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez threw out some 13 appeals the defense team for the 86-year-old former military leader had filed.

José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, the former intelligence chief during Ríos Montt's rule, will also have to stand trial, Judge Gálvez ordered.

Lawyers for both defendants said they will appeal Tuesday's decision before the country's Supreme and Constitutional courts. In the meantime, Ríos Montt, who will remain under house arrest, and Rodríguez Sánchez, who is under hospital care, were scheduled to appear before the court at press time Wednesday to listen to the evidence filed against them.

Prosecutors charge that Ríos Montt turned a blind eye to the rapes and murders of some 1,770 members of the Ixil Indian tribe during a 1982 massacre. He is also wanted in a separate investigation before the Spanish High Court in Madrid.

The retired general, who took over the Guatemalan government from March 23, 1982 to August 8, 1983, ruled during one of the bloodiest periods in the country's 36-year civil war.

Prosecutors say they have 142 statements from witnesses that directly link both defendants to the crimes

Rios Montt has unsuccessfully argued through his defense team that he did not control the battlefields when crimes were committed by the army, and denied there had been a genocide in the Central American nation. But human rights prosecutors say they have 142 statements from witnesses that directly link both defendants to the crimes and other abuses. Among the evidence, Gálvez said, is testimony from experts on genocide, psychologists and forensic officials. "It has been established that there is serious enough evidence to submit the parties involved to a public trial," the judge said.

Francisco Palomo, one of Ríos Montt's attorneys, said that media and public pressure influenced Gálvez's decision, reported Guatemala City daily La Hora on Tuesday.

After being protected by 12 years of parliamentary immunity, in January 2010 a judge placed him under house arrest and ordered him to stand trial after hearing 11 hours of testimony from witnesses and victims of the 1982 massacre. But his defense team was able to stall the process for a year with a barrage of motions and appeals.

Outside the courtroom on Tuesday, dozens of human rights activists wore red shirts, the color of resistance during the civil war.

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