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le 5 mars 2012

Guatemalan Judge denies Montt’s amnesty claim in Genocide Case

Last week, just hours before a hearing was scheduled to hear the defense’s motion to dismiss the case on grounds of amnesty, Judge Carol Flores shocked the legal community by recusing herself from the Genocide case, subsequent to a motion to remove the judge by the defense, as claims of bias had been made by Gen. Lopez Fuentes’ defense. Judge Miguel Angel Galvez of Tribunal B was immediately assigned to replace Flores.

Last Thursday, March 1st, any outstanding questions or doubts about the new judge were answered or dismissed. Judge Miguel Angel Galvez presided over a hearing to determine whether Montt’s defense team’s claim of amnesty (citing several amnesty laws, namely a 1986 amnesty law passed by Gen. Oscar Mejia Victores) would be grounds to dismiss the case. The judge sided with the State Prosecutor and victims’ representatives’ arguments that such amnesty laws were overruled by international treaties that clearly state that no such amnesty could be given for genocide or crimes against humanity. The judge also noted that domestic amnesty laws only apply to crimes that are by nature political or have a nexus to the political sphere, and do not specifically provide amnesty for genocide or crimes against humanity. Human Rights’ advocates applauded the decision yesterday to deny the amnesty claim.

José Efraín Ríos Montt, pictured right: 03/01/2012 (Photo Credit: Greg Krupa)

José Efraín Ríos Montt: 03/01/2012 (Photo Credit: Greg Krupa)

Guatemala, being a member state of the UN’s Genocide Convention since 1950 and the Geneva Conventions since 1952, is legally bound to deny such amnesty, even when domestic laws are passed that give that type of amnesty. These international treaties, meant to protect human rights, are superior to any and all contravening domestic laws.

One of Montt's lawyers: 03/01/2012 (Photo Credit: Greg Krupa)

What is Genocide? (Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide: What is Genocide?) Did it happen in Guatemala? If so, were military commanders responsible? Human rights advocates, international humanitarian rights legal experts, and Montt advocates are debating these topics, and the merits and legal implications of the case. Although many argue that the State, to find Montt and the other two co-defendants guilty of Genocide, must prove that the three defendants (Generals Rios Montt, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, and Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes) had knowledge and intent to commit genocide, the Genocide Convention, in Article III, considers complicity to genocide as a punishable offense.

José Efraín Ríos Montt speaks with attorneys: 03/01/2012 (Photo Credit: Greg Krupa)

Montt’s lawyers are appealing the judge’s decision to deny amnesty, bringing the appeal to Guatemala’s highest court, The Constitutional Court. This appeal, and other motions filed by the defense team, will drag the case out for months if not years to come. Given Montt’s advanced age, and the worsening health of the two other co-defendants in the Genocide case, time is of the essence. As the legal battle is waged, with some of the craftiest and highest powered defense attorneys in the country, who can say how long this process will last, and ultimately whether indictments will be converted into convictions?

Montt's attorney, Francisco Palomo, pictured right: 03/01/2012 (Photo Credit: Greg Krupa)

“Crimes like genocide and crimes against humanity that have no statute of limitations, and for that reason there can be no amnesty decree,” Judge Galvez said. Montt’s defense attorney, Francisco Palomo said he would appeal that decision.

Judge Miguel Angel Galvez: 03/01/2012 (Photo Credit: Greg Krupa)

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