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Justice deferred, justice denied

19 April 2013

Elisabeth Malkin, New York Times:

A Guatemalan judge on Thursday annulled the genocide trial against the former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, a stunning ruling that could force prosecutors to begin the case all over again.

The decision, by Judge Carol Patricia Flores, brought an abrupt halt to a trial that has become a test case of Guatemala’s judicial system and has reopened painful memories of the bloodiest chapter in the country’s long-running civil war.

Judge Flores was involved in the case early on but was not the trial judge hearing the evidence. Her ruling appeared to be based on a Supreme Court decision first to recuse her, in late 2011, and then to reinstate her a few months later. But the judge said Thursday that the reinstatement decision was never communicated to lower courts, which she said nullified all the court proceedings related to the case, including the decision to send it to trial.


Guatemala’s attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz called Judge Flores’s ruling illegal and said her office would appeal.

>The decision was a blow to prosecutors and lawyers for survivors’ groups that have worked for 20 years to bring high-ranking military commanders to trial for the atrocities committed in the early 1980s.

“We won’t be able to convince many witnesses to testify again,” said Andy Javalois, a legal adviser to the Myrna Mack Foundation, a human rights group.

I’m no expert on Guatemalan court procedures, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a judge basically saying she wasn’t the right court… in the middle

Exhumed bodies of genocide victims prepared for re-burial in Ixil (photo: James Rodriguez,

Exhumed bodies of genocide victims prepared for re-burial in Ixil (photo: James Rodriguez,

of a trial… and the whole thing is more than a little hinky.  One suspects that the betting is that the genocidal General Efraín Rios Montt, now 86 years old, will do everyone a favor and die of old age before the evidence embarrasses more than just the Guatemalan killers, but raises evidence of the “intellectual authors” of the crime, some of whom, like Ronald Reagan, obviously are unavailable for testimony.

As big a disappointment in the annals of justice as this is, at least the Guatemalans credit for getting a case for crimes against humanity this far in their own courts.  Fat chance the “advanced” legal system in the United States will even indict, let alone bring to trial any one of like Henry Kissinger or Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney.

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