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Ex-Guatemala dictator says Spanish arrest warrant on genocide charges unfounded

[JURIST] Efrain Rios Montt [Wikipedia profile], a former Guatemalan dictator, has called Spanish National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz's order for Montt's arrest last week [JURIST report] unfounded, insisting that he did not know of any crimes against humanity committed by his military officials during Guatemala's brutal 36-year civil war [Globalsecurity.org backgrounder]. During a news conference Wednesday, Montt added that the Guatemalan army "followed orders and the law." Pedraz last Friday charged several former Guatemalan military officers with genocide, torture, and other crimes against humanity, and issued international arrest warrants for their involvement in atrocities committed during the civil war, including the murder of eight Spanish priests and a 1980 military assault on the Spanish Embassy that killed 37 people. In addition to Montt, Pedraz charged five former military officials, including former head of state Oscar Humberto Mejia [Wikipedia profile], citing their failure to cooperate during his trip to Guatemala to investigate [JURIST report] the murder and genocide case originally filed by Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu [Nobel profile] in 1999. Lawyers for Montt and Mejia contend that Pedraz is biased and that Spain cannot extradite the ex-leaders because they were granted amnesty for any actions during Guatemala's civil war.

The Spanish National Court (Audiencia Nacional) [governing statute] took jurisdiction [JURIST report] of the case earlier this year, after Spain's Constitutional Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in 2005 that Spanish courts can exercise universal jurisdiction over war crimes committed during Guatemala's civil war [BBC timeline]. The Constitutional Court decided that universal jurisdiction outweighed national interests in cases of genocide. AP has more.

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