This is unfortunate, but not unexpected:
Guatemala’s top court has overturned the genocide conviction of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, ordering that the trial be taken back to the middle of proceedings.
The ruling late on Monday threw into disarray a process that had been hailed as historic for delivering the first guilty verdict for genocide against a former Latin American leader.
The constitutional court secretary, Martin Guzman, said the trial needed to go back to where it stood on 19 April to resolve several appeal issues.
The ruling came 10 days after a three-judge panel convicted the 86-year-old former general of genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in massacres of Mayans during Guatemala’s bloody 36-year civil war.
The panel found after two months of testimony that Rios Montt knew about the slaughter of at least 1,771 Ixil Mayans in the western highlands and did not stop it.
The tribunal sentenced Rios Montt to 80 years in prison, drawing cheers from many Guatemalans. It was the first time a former Latin American leader was convicted of such crimes in his home country and the first official acknowledgment that genocide occurred during the war – something the current president, retired general Otto Perez Molina, has denied.
Rios Montt’s lawyers immediately filed an appeal, and he spent three days in prison before he was moved to a military hospital, where he remains.
The court said on Monday it threw out his conviction because the trial should have been stopped while appeals filed by the defence were resolved.
Defence lawyer Francisco Garcia Gudiel told the Associated Press by telephone he would seek the former dictator’s freedom on Tuesday.
[…] The defence constantly claimed flaws and miscarriages of justice.
Courts solved more than 100 complaints and injunctions filed by the defence before the trial even started.
Rios Montt’s defensce team walked out on 18 April, arguing that they couldn’t continue to be part of such bad proceedings. When the three-judge tribunal resumed the trial, it ordered two public defenders to represent Rios Montt and his co-defendant, Jose Rodriguez Sanchez.
Rios Montt rejected his public defender and instead brought in Garcia, who was expelled earlier by the tribunal but reinstated by an appeals court.
Garcia had earlier been ordered off the case after he called for the three judges on the tribunal to be removed from the proceedings. He kept trying to have the judges dismissed. And the constitutional court ruled on Monday that the trial should have been suspended while his appeal was heard.
There are still powerful forces aligned with the likes of Montt - I’m guessing the implications for the sitting President, as well as possible connections to former U.S. officials and Guatemala’s ruling oligarchy are a motivating factor here. Here’s Alan Nairn, who covered the genocide in 1982, speaking on Democracy Now! last week:
Well, now this—now that Ríos Montt has been convicted for the actions that the Guatemalan army took in the highlands, the next logical step is to look at those who were implementing the plan of Ríos Montt. And the field commander on the ground at that time in the Ixil region was Pérez Molina, who is now the president. With the ruling of the judge, this is more than just a logical conclusion that Pérez Molina should be investigated. It’s now a legal mandate from the court, because the court said that the attorney general of Guatemala is ordered to investigate everyone who could have been involved in the crimes for which Ríos Montt was convicted.