Friday, April 19, 2013

Guatemala judge suspends Rios Montt genocide trial

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Judge Carol Flores sparks row after voiding all actions taken in former dictator's war crimes case since November 2011

A judge in Guatemala has ordered the suspension of the genocide trial of the former US-backed dictator Efrain Rios Montt, angering prosecutors who vowed that proceedings would continue as planned.

Judge Carol Patricia Flores was recently reinstated to the case after being recused from it in February 2012. She ruled that all actions taken in the case since she was asked to step down were null, in effect sending the trial back to square one.

"I am not doing this because I want to, but because it has been ordered by the constitutional court and the supreme court," said Flores, while relatives of the victims wept and shouted that she was "a sold-out judge".

The comment was a reference to last week's decision by the constitutional court to declare her competent to carry out the pre-trial process.

In Guatemala, criminal cases go to a single judge who decides whether to charge a suspect and whether there is enough evidence to send a case to a trial presided over by a three-judge panel.

Flores made the announcement on Thursday after proceedings ended abruptly when Rios Montt's legal team stormed out of the court arguing that the trial was illegal.

In November 2011 his lawyers filed a complaint to remove Flores from the case, alleging that she was biased. In January 2012 she charged Rios Montt with genocide and war crimes. Another judge took over in February and the case went to a three-judge panel.

By setting back the legal process to November 2011, before she filed the charges, Flores has forced prosecutors to start over.

The attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, called Flores's decision illegal and said prosecutors would use all available resources to stop her interfering in the trial. "We have been asked to be in the courtroom tomorrow at 8.30am and we will be there to continue the trial," she said.

Rios Montt ruled Guatemala in 1982-83 after a military coup in one of the bloodiest periods of the civil war. He has been accused of presiding over the killing of 1,771 indigenous Ixils in a "scorched earth" campaign aimed at wiping out support for leftist guerrillas.

A Guatemalan human rights activist has accused Rios Montt's legal team of attempting to delay the trial. "The defence is intent in stopping the trial and denying Guatemalans their right to know the truth," Helen Mack said.

The trial against the 86-year-old former general started last month after courts resolved more than a 100 complaints and injunctions filed by the defence. Since then the court has heard the harrowing testimony of dozens of people who survived the military offensive. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Warren Murray, Matthew Weaver, Paul Owen 19 Apr, 2013

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