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Never too late

Posted by Mariana on 31 Jan 2013 | Comments


GUATEMALA’S civil war, which ran for 36 years until 1996, was one of the darkest episodes in Latin America’s recent history. A UN-sponsored truth commission estimated that 200,000 people were killed during the conflict, most of them Mayan villagers, who in many cases were killed by the state security forces. Some of the worst butchery took place in 1982 and 1983, during the dictatorship of Efraín Ríos Montt, an army general who led the country for 17 months.

Mr Ríos Montt, now 86 years old, looked set to live out his life without having to answer for the crimes alleged to have taken place under his command. But on January 28th a Guatemalan court ruled that he should stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. It is the first time that a former president has been charged with genocide by a Latin American court. That it should have happened in Guatemala, a country where impunity has long been the norm, is stunning.

Prosecutors are preparing charges against Mr Ríos Montt for the killing of 1,771 indigenous Ixil people, who are believed to have been killed in 15 massacres between 1982 and 1983. The Ixil were seen as supporters of left-wing guerrilla fighters who were at war with the state. The prosecution argues that Mr Ríos Montt wanted to wipe out the Ixil entirely, as part of a scorched-earth policy in which entire villages were destroyed, and their inhabitants murdered or simply “disappeared”.

In spite of the atrocities committed during his time in power, Mr Ríos Montt enjoyed something of a political comeback, including an unsuccessful presidential run in 2003. Until last January he served as a member of Guatemala’s National Assembly, which gave him immunity against prosecution. But when his term ran out last year he was placed under house arrest. His lawyers argue that he is protected by an amnesty law dating from the end of the conflict.

The announcement of a trial, 30 years on from the alleged crimes, is another sign that Guatemala is tentatively improving its awful record for impunity. As we reported last week, the country’s justice system appears to be getting a firmer grip on crime, which is falling at last after several years of steep increases. The case against Mr Ríos Montt will be the biggest test yet of whether Guatemalan justice is up to the enormous challenges it faces.


Source: The Economist


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Source: AP
Source: AP