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Trial halted for former Guatemala leader accused of genocide

The genocide trial for former Guatemala president Efrain Rios Montt [Trial Watch Profile] came to a halt Thursday, potentially discarding nearly a year-and-a-half of court proceedings. According to Judge Patricia Flores, all actions taken on Rios Montt's case since she was recused in November 2011 are invalid [Reuters report]. However, Guatemala attorney general Claudia Paz y Paz says Flores' ruling is illegal [NYT report]. Her office plans to appeal the decision. The issue of suspension of the trial has been handed over to Guatemala's Constitutional Court [AP report], which must issue a ruling within 10 days. Rios Montt came to power through a coup in 1982, and he is accused of overseeing the murder of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Mayans [Economist report] during his 17-month reign. Flores' decision came after defense lawyers walked out of the courtroom in protest. On April 16, a dozen former officials issued a statement saying the genocide trial was detracting from the country's ongoing peace process.

Last month UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay lauded [JURIST report] Guatemala for beginning the trial of Rios Montt and former intelligence chief Jose Rodriguez Sanchez, both of whom stand accused of committing genocide and crimes against humanity. Montt has been ordered to stand trial multiple times for alleged genocide and crimes against humanity, and the trial started on March 19. In January a Guatemalan judge ordered [JURIST report] Rios Montt to stand trial. Last May Flores issued a second order [JURIST report] demanding Rios Montt stand trial after ruling that a sufficient amount of evidence had been mounted against him, necessitating his testimony before a court of law. Rios 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.

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