Diakonia - People change the world
After the hearings of over 100 witnesses and a lengthy legal process that almost had to be restarted, Efraín Ríos Montt was finally sentenced to 80 years in prison for the genocide of the Ixil-people. Photo: CALDH

Guatemala: Efraín Ríos Montt convicted of genocide

On May 11, Guatemala's former dictator Efraín Rios Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. Montt was declared responsible for the massacre of 1,771 Mayan Indians from the Ixil-people, while being the country's military leader between 1982-1983.

The intent: Eradicate the Ixil population

"The court is convinced that the intent was to eradicate the Ixil population," said Judge Jazmin Barrios during the hour-long presentation that was the basis for the verdict.

More about the genocide: The Mayan people Ixil in the Quiche region in northern Guatemala were subjected to severe persecution during the Guatemalan civil war through rape, torture and murder. 90 percent of the villages in the area were attacked indiscriminately and were burnt down by the army during the 17 months when Efraín Ríos Montt was the head of state in Guatemala.

Historic verdict

The verdict is historic and a major breakthrough for human rights in the region. Although the negotiations were delayed and temporarily postponed due to Montt's lawyers tried to overturn the trial with continual appeals on procedural details, it is the first time that a head of state has been declared guilty of genocide by a domestic court. Earlier genocide trials have only been carried out by international courts. Rios Montt was sentenced to 50 years in prison for genocide and 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity. Montt's former intelligence chief, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, who also faced charges, was declared not guilty.

AJR and CALDH influential in the process

Diakonia's partner organizations CALDH, who has been assisting the plaintiffs during the legal counsel, and the family compound AJR have been driving forces to ensure that justice will be done in the court case. Together with other organizations, they have worked for many years for the truth to come out and for the survivors to be compensated for what they have been through."It is a historic judgment, the evidence is rigorous and it became a conviction for the former head of state," says Héctor Reyes from CALDH, in a comment to the newspaper Prensa Libre after the announcement from the court. In the magazine, he also describes the happiness that he now sees in the victims and their relatives."They brought forward their cause, demanded justice and that's what they have achieved," concludes Reyes, who represented the plaintiffs. CALDH is one of Guatemala's most prominent human rights organizations.

Denies the allegations

The now 86-year-old former general Efraín Ríos Montt denied the charges and said he neither ordered or had any knowledge of the massacres that took place during his time in power. He will most likely try to reverse the decision with reference to his age.