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Lawyers Without Borders Canada Perplexed by a Decision that Seems Contrary To the Interests of Justice

Lawyers without Borders Canada (LWBC) is perplexed by a decision rendered today by the Constitutional Court of Guatemala, which has the effect of annulling the conviction of former Guatemalan Head of State General José Efraín Ríos Montt and his sentencing to 80 years of prison for the genocide of the Ixil Maya ethnic group, as well as for war crimes.

LWBC had welcomed this judgment, handed down on May 10 by an extraordinary criminal tribunal (Tribunal Primero de Sentencia Penal, Narcoactividad y Delitos contra el Ambiente de Mayor Riesgo “A”), a world first in establishing penal liability against a former state leader for a crime of this severity before a national tribunal. However, the Constitutional Court ordered the trial to be reset before the same judges as of April 19, 2013, the date the prosecution’s evidence was fully presented but prior to the presentation of the defence evidence and the final arguments. This judgment includes strong dissents, with two of the five judges concluding that no motive justifies the majority’s decision, which would appear rather to endorse the defence’s dilatory tactics.

Respect for the constitutional rights of the defence and the right to a fair trial is fundamental,” says Pascal Paradis, LWBC’s Executive Director. “However, the defence’s multiple alternative recourses and abuses of process in this case have raised doubts about its real intentions. The Constitutional Court’s majority decision, which focuses on technical procedural problems while failing to appreciate the genuine violations of the defense’s fundamental rights, seems difficult to reconcile with the interests of justice.”

This decision by the Constitutional Court preoccupies LWBC and its Guatemalan partners as potentially giving way to some of the multiple procedural objections presented by the defence, one of which calls for the recusal of two judges having rendered the May 10th condemnation. “For the past 30 years, the victims have been waiting for justice to be served. This case started in 2001, and the road remains strewn with pitfalls, but this is not the end of the case. We remain hopeful that justice will be rendered for the victims,” Paradis affirmed.

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