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Opening of the new trial against former dictator Rios Montt temporarily suspended

Guatemala City

Lawyers without Borders Canada (LWBC) attended yesterday the opening of the new trial against Jose Efrain Rios Montt, former Guatemalan Head of State, and his Director of Military Intelligence, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, both accused of genocide and war crimes. The three-panel judge of the High Risk Tribunal ruled in favour of a defence motion requesting the recusal of the presiding Judge, Jeanette Valdez, suspending temporarily the trial.

The Tribunal started by rejecting Mr. Rios Montt’s defence attorney’s request for his client to be excused from attending personally the proceedings and ordered the police to bring the accused at the tribunal. Mr. Rios Montt later arrived in the courtroom lying on a gurney and surrounded by a medical team.

The Tribunal after ruled on a defence motion’s requesting Judge Valdez’s recusal from the panel for lacking impartiality due to opinions expressed in her master thesis regarding the existence of genocide in Guatemala. Judge Valdez, in a minority opinion, rejected the motion against her on the basis that her thesis is academic and independent from her judicial functions.

According to the legal timeframe, a new judge should be appointed to this case within a few days. The parties may also appeal this decision in the next three days. Some argue that the recusal motion was presented by the defence in order to delay the case.

On March 10, 2013, the former head of State Rios Montt was convicted to 80 years of jail for genocide and war crimes and Mr. Rodriguez Sanchez was acquitted. This decision was cancelled on May 21, 2013 by the Constitutional Court based on procedural grounds, ordering a new trial.