May 15, 2013

GUATEMALA: Guatemala Court Finds Ex-Dictator Rios Montt GUILTY Of Genocide And Crimes Against Humanity

Rappler news
written by AFP staff
Saturday May 11, 2013

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala - Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and war crimes Friday, May 10, in a landmark ruling stemming from massacres of indigenous people in his country's long civil war.

He thus became the first Latin American convicted of trying to exterminate an entire group of people.

Rios Montt, who is 86 and presided over one of the most violent periods of the 1960-1996 conflict, was sentenced to 80 years in prison, although he can appeal.

He got 50 years for genocide and 30 years for war crimes. The sentence and verdict were read out by Judge Jazmin Barrios. She said the ex-despot's acts "qualify as genocide."

"The corresponding punishment must be imposed," she said.

Other Latin American countries such as Chile, Brazil and Argentina were also ruled by cruel military despots in the 1970s and 80s and some leaders and officers were convicted for abuses.

But this is the first time an outright genocide conviction has been handed down in the region.

Activists say the verdict is also historic because this is the first time anywhere in the world that a court has found a country's head of state guilty of genocide -- a systematic attempt to eliminate an entire group of people for racial, religious, political or other purposes.

Other genocide convictions, like those stemming from Rwanda's orgy of ethnic violence in 1994, were handed down by international courts.

Rios Montt seized power in 1982 and ruled until 1983 in what is widely considered one of the bloodiest periods of the country's 36-year agony of civil war between the military and leftist rebels. Peace came in 1996, after a war that left about 200,000 people dead or missing, according to UN estimates.

Under Rios Montt's rule, the army carried out a scorched earth policy against indigenous peoples, accusing them of backing rebel forces.

In this particular trial, he and his former intelligence chief Jose Rodriguez were accused of ordering the army to carry out 15 massacres that left 1,771 Maya Ixil Indians dead in Quiche in northern Guatemala.

During the trial, which began in March, more than 100 survivors testified, some of them Indian women covering their faces with colorful blankets. Some said they had been gang-raped by dozens of soldiers, assaulted over and over until they passed out.

Another witness, Julio Velasco, who was just a boy at the time, testified that at a military camp where he was taken by force, soldiers played soccer with the severed head of an elderly woman.

"I have never forgotten this and will never forget it," he testified.

Rios Montt took the stand on Thursday and denied ordering any massacres [of course he would. It is common for any type of abuser to deny committing an offense. Abuse and lying go hand in hand. An abuser will never acknowledge they did anything wrong. Because in their twisted mind, they never did anything wrong. Or like in this case, make excuses and/or blame others. But it's never their fault. They will never take responsibility for their abuses till their dying day. (emphasis mine)], saying he was too busy being president to micromanage the army or know what each and every military unit was doing.

The intelligence chief also insisted there was no evidence linking him to any atrocity.

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