Friday, August 2, 2013

Judge: Rios Montt Trial was "Breakthrough for Guatemala"

Although she has kept out of the public spotlight in recent months, Mexico’s La Jornada managed to get an exclusive interview with Judge Iris Yassmin Barrios, who headed the tribunal overseeing the case against former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt earlier this year.  She was surprisingly optimistic about the future of the trial, and about what it said about the strength of the country’s institutions.  

According to Barrios, the May 20 annulment of Rios Montt’s conviction on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity did not represent “defeat.” As she put it, “the trial, as a whole, was a breakthrough for Guatemala, especially for its judicial system. In spite of all of the attacks in the media campaign that we took, we demonstrated that there is judicial independence, that there are judges who are committed, responsible, and have integrity, and who know the law.”

The interview continues:
Do you feel satisfied with the fact that in this country there has been the opportunity to issue a sentence for genocide like the one you handed down; that at least the general was held for a single weekend in a cell?
It’s not about personal satisfaction. It must be seen from another point of view. It gave the opportunity for victims to have a say in the process. The constitutional guarantees of the accused were respected. And on May 13, after the sentencing, a hearing was on reparation for the victims and the court proceeded to analyze the requests of the complainants and respond to them properly. And I must say, they did not ask for economic reparations, but had much more fundamental petitions.
We showed that Guatemala, with its economic and political shortcomings, has the ability to spark a debate a that was observed by many legal experts worldwide, who certified that the court satisfied the strictest standards of justice.
What's next? When does the process resume?
We do not know, that's one of the issues that the Constitutional Court left in the air.
You have excused yourself from continuing to hear the case. Why?
The court mandates that the debate after April 19 is cancelled. We cannot accept illegal orders. According to our legal system, that would not be possible because once a ruling was previously issued, we cannot go back in time, to pretend that nothing happened. It is unethical and incorrect, and is not procedurally feasible.
In the new phase of the trial, if it ever comes to resume, will it recognize the testimonies of victims which have been issued or will they have to travel from their villages to the capital to declare once again?
It’s sad, but I think the victims would have to return for one reason: the judges who reach the tribunal cannot pass judgment if they have not listened to the people. The Court overturned everything.
The rest of the interview, in Spanish, can be read at La Jornada or Guatemala’s Plaza Publica, which has reposted it. Barrios goes on to further discuss her impressions of the trial, her professional career and the highly public criticism she continues to face from Rios Montt's legal team.  

News Briefs
  • On the day after Uruguay’s lower house voted to support marijuana regulation, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) released a statement warning the government of Uruguay that, if the bill is passed into law, it would "be in complete contravention to the provisions of the international drug treaties to which Uruguay is party," including the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The Board also expressed "regret" that Uruguay did not receive an INCB mission before the bill was taken under consideration. The statement was first reported by Spanish news agency EFE and has since been picked up by local media, including El Pais and El Observador
  • The AP reports that Otto Reich, a former State Department official for Latin American affairs and prominent critic of Chavismo, has filed suit against three Venezuelan businessmen in New York who he claims secured public contracts in their country by bribing public officials.  The Wall Street Journal also notes that the suit names Rafael Ramirez, oil minister and president of Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA, as having received bribes to grant one of the accused a contract to build four power plants in the country in 2010.
  • A Honduran court has found four police officers guilty of the murder of the 2011 murder of the son of Honduran National Autonomous University President Julieta Castellanos. Ever since the killing, Castellanos has been a key advocate of cleaning up the country’s notoriously corrupt police force.
  • The New York Times offers a profile of Mexico’s first indigenous language soap opera, the Mayan language telenovela “Baktun,” which makes its television debut this month in the state of Quintana Roo. Unlike other telenovelas, the cast has little formal acting experience, and its passionate love scenes have been toned down in accordance with a more conservative culture.
  • After a three year investigation into the collapse of a mine in Chile that stranded 33 miners a half-mile underground for 69 days, the case has been closed with no charges filed, according to Chilean prosecutors. Mario Sepulveda, one of the trapped miners, criticized the finding to El Mostrador, though he noted that “it will not stay like this.”
  • After meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos last week to repair bilateral relations and discuss improving border security, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced that he would create a new hybrid security organization to police the border and “end illegal flights linked to drug trafficking” in his country. The president referred to it as a “civic-military council” and charged Major General Wilmer Barrientos with leading the new body.
  • Bolivia’s La Razon reports that a recent census on ethnicity in the country conducted by the national statistics institute found that 41 percent of the country identified as a members of any of the officially recognized indigenous groups in Bolivia. The government refrained from including the term “mestizo” in the census, as officials claimed it was a product of is a product of centuries of racism and a “colonial” mindset.
  • Al Jazeera English reports on the “soverign debt trial of the century,” the Argentine government’s battle in a New York court with the so-called “vulture funds” seeking compensation for the country’s 2002 default on its debt. 

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