A Guatemalan judge on Monday ordered former dictator Efrain Rios Montt [JURIST news archive] to stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity stemming from the killing of more than 1,700 villagers of Mayan ancestry. Judge Miguel Angel Galvez announced [BBC report] that Montt, along with one of his former generals Jose Rodriguez Sanchez, must answer for the alleged crimes committed during Montt's reign as de facto head of state in the early 1980s. Human Rights Watch Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco called [HRW press release] the order "a remarkable development in a country where impunity for past atrocities has long been the norm," and welcomed this step toward greater accountability in Guatemala. Montt is the first ex-head of state to be charged with genocide by a Latin American court.
This is not the first time Montt has been ordered to stand trial for alleged genocide and crimes against humanity. In May Judge Carol Patricia Flores issued the second order [JURIST report] demanding Montt stand trial after ruling that a sufficient amount of evidence had been mounted against him, necessitating his testimony before a court of law. Montt was protected [JURIST report] from prosecution until last January because he was serving as a member of congress, an immunity that had been lifted due to his departure from the legislature. The 36-year Guatemalan civil war [BBC backgrounder] resulted in more than 200,000 deaths, mostly among Guatemala's large indigenous Mayan population. According to a UN report [text, in Spanish] released in 1999, the military was responsible for 95 percent of those deaths.