The United Nations High Human Rights Council has echoed the calls of Guatemalan activists, who are demanding the continuation of the trial against the former dictator, Efrain Rios Montt, after his death on April 1.
The Council’s spokesperson, Elizabeth Throssell said in a press conference “the death of Rios Montt, 91 years old, should not cause authorities to not fulfill their obligations with respect to the rights to truth, justice reparations, guarantees and non-repetition.”
Following Rios Montt’s death, Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous activist, and 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner, expressed her hope that the trial against Montt would continue arguing death and time doesn't invalidate crimes against humanity. She also warned it was unlikely the Guatemalan justice system will continue with the judicial process.
"For me, Mr. Ríos Montt was tried, he has a sentence of 80 years. It is a shame for Guatemala because the Constitutional Court violated the legal doctrine because it did not allow the challenges and that technicality demonstrates impunity in an era where judges and officials are implicated in corruption," she said adding: "He did not go to prison as a result of impunity, but before the historical memory he was a character who appeared before the courts and heard the truth of the victims."
The trials against Rios Montt and the former head of intelligence services, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez, were scheduled to begin after Holy Week, but they have been postponed. This led to the Human Rights Council to “urge Guatemalan authorities to guarantee the trial of those who have been accused of violations committed during 36 years of internal conflict (1960-1996) proceed with no unjustified delay.”
In 2013, Rios Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity for the murder of members of the Ixil indigenous community and sentenced to 80 years in prison. However, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court revoked the sentence citing formal irregularities in the trial.
After the Court revoked his sentence, it took four years to begin a new trial, and the judges involved in hearing the case have received death threats.
Throssell highlighted that “despite the efforts made by the victims and Guatemalan civil society, very few processes for high authorities’ grave human rights violations have become sentences.”
Menchú also lamented that on the general’s death, his followers exalted State terrorism and criminal acts perpetrated during Rios Montt’s 17-month rule.
According to Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission 200,000 innocent people, including children, were killed or disappeared during the armed conflict that followed the United States-backed military coup against democratically elected president Jacobo Arbenz in 1954.