Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rios Montt Trial Set to Resume in 2015

It seems the retrial of former Guatemalan de facto leader Efrain Rios Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity, initially set for next April, has been pushed back. Prensa Libre reports that the date of the trial has been slated for January 5, 2015, as the competent court has a full schedule until then.

Hector Reyes, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case with the Center for Human Rights and Legal Action (CALDH), criticized the new date to the AFP. While he claimed that mobilizing victims to testify in court again -- after the Constitutional Court effectively annulled their testimony by overturning a guilty ruling in June -- would not be a challenge, he argued that putting off the court date so long was a violation of their rights.

“As lawyers we believe that the victims’ access to justice is being greatly postponed…and we think that the case deserves to have a date scheduled sooner than 2015, because justice for victims of the armed conflict has been ignored,” Reyes said.

There are other reasons for concern about the postponement; after all, Rios Montt is getting on. The general is 87 years old, and has a number of health complications. His doctors say he has high blood pressure, spinal cord and prostate problems. In September, he underwent surgery for the latter issue. The shock alone of the initial guilty verdict in May allegedly took a toll on Rios Montt, causing him to faint on his way out the courthouse and be taken to a military hospital (though obviously this narrative is suspicious).

Ultimately, with every passing year the odds are steadily growing that the ex-dictator will die before his court date.

According to El Periodico, the prosecution is hopeful that the tribunal will be able to hear the case sooner than anticipated, as happened in February when judges moved the trial up from mid-August to March 19.

Before then, however, the courts will have to give a final decision on whether a 1986 general amnesty decree passed by the military regime can be applied to Rios Montt. Late last month the Constitutional Court ordered the First Chamber of Appeals to reevaluate and clarify the argument against the validity of the amnesty, and the lower court has not yet given a ruling on the matter.

News Briefs
  • Just as the specter of amnesty resurfaced in Guatemala, on October 25 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a statement urging the Central American country to prosecute civil war-era human rights abusers. While the commission did not identify Rios Montt by name, it advised the Guatemalan government that the amnesty decree “does not represent an obstacle to investigations into grave violations of human rights which occurred during the armed conflict, nor to the identification, trial and eventual sentencing of those responsible.” Meanwhile, CALDH Director Juan Francisco Soto has announced that victims of abuses committed by Guatemalan state security forces will file a petition to the IACHR today take up their case against the ex-dictator, EFE reports. It is unclear if the commission will accept the appeal, however, as petitioners must first demonstrate that they have exhausted all legal remedies in their countries.
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced yesterday she would request Congress to pass legislation which would set aside 20 percent of government jobs to black Brazilians, which she said was necessary to promote affirmative action in the government’s hiring process. Although the AP claims she has not sent the bill to lawmakers yet, Estadão reports that she did so yesterday.
  • The Associated Press has an excellent investigation into Venezuela’s public health care system, which is facing shortages in medical equipment, drugs. Medical workers consulted by the AP also say the government has not provided resources necessary to replace broken machines, forcing hospitals to deny care to some patients. Caracas-based human rights group PROVEA took a critical look at the issue in September, accusing the government of failing to investigate misuse of funds meant to purchase prescription medicine, and of not funding necessary upkeep for medical equipment at cancer treatment centers.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has officially declared December 8 a national holiday, in commemoration of Hugo Chavez’s final speech and public appearance before his death. The day falls on the same date as upcoming local elections, which has spurred criticism that the president is seeking to influence their outcome. According to El Nacional, the official decree calls on all Venezuelans to "honor with thought and action the heritage and universal legacy" of Chavez.
  • It seems the decision by the Colombian government negotiating team and FARC rebels to extend the current recent round of negotiations in Havana  has paid off. El Tiempo reports that both parties are expected to sign a preliminary accord today regarding their future political participation, the second of five points on their agenda. This has not yet been confirmed by representatives of either party, however. On Monday the negotiating teams announced that they would change the format for talks, allotting more time in between recesses, and shorter breaks overall.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has announced that his administration will send a formal complaint letter to Russia, alleging that two Russian bombers violated the country’s airspace in a flight between Venezuela and Nicaragua last week.
  • In an illustration of the complicated relationship between community self-defense organizations and state security forces in Mexico, leaders of vigilante groups in the southwestern state of Michoacan have said they will pull back their activity in the area in response to the presence of federal troops, Excelsior and the AP report.
  • The New York Times has a good overview of the recently-announced discovery of a dictatorship-era cache of documents which shed new light on the junta’s persecution of cultural figures as well as political activists. According to the NYT, among the find is a 19-page list of artists and intellectuals that the government believed to have subversive leanings, including novelist Julio Cortazar and folk singer Mercedes Sosa.
  • Argentine media giant Clarin, which lost a major court battle last week when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an anti-media monopoly law, has unveiled its plan to comply with the ruling. In a statement presented with the plan, Clarin said it was doing so “under the threat of confiscation,” and still planned to challenge the measure in international tribunals.
  • The L.A. Times profiles a new report due to be released today by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) on income inequality in Honduras. According to the report’s authors: “In the two years after the coup, Honduras had the most rapid rise in inequality in Latin America and now stands as the country with the most unequal distribution of income in the region.”