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Guatemala court: government must apologize for acts of genocide

A Guatemalan court on Monday ordered the government to apologize to the Ixil Maya, an indigenous people, for acts of genocide that were committed against them when former dictator Efrain Rios Montt [BBC profile; JURIST news archives] was in power. Montt was found guilty [JURIST report] on Friday of the genocide, torture and rape of 1,771 Ixil Mayans during his 1982-83 rule for ordering the country's military to commit the acts. The court also ordered [AFP report] that the government declare March 23 to be National Day Against Genocide because that is the date on which Montt took power in 1982. Montt was absent from the hearing, which was held to address reparations for the victims, because he fainted due to high blood pressure earlier that day. His transfer from a military facility to a hospital had been approved over the weekend, but Montt had opted to wait until after Monday's hearing to be transferred. Doctors said his health condition was exacerbated when he was not allowed to take his medications to jail with him after his conviction on Friday. He is expected to appeal [PressTV report] the verdict and his sentence of 80 years in prison.

The time period during Montt's rule was one of the bloodiest parts of the Guatemala Civil War [PBS timeline; JURIST news archives], in which more than 200,000 people were killed over 36 years. Montt's trial was delayed last month [JURIST report] when an annulment was ordered by the Constitutional Court and the case was transferred to another judge to determine whether defense evidence had been incorporated properly. This ruling came days after the original judge on the case had ignored a prior ruling [JURIST report] annulling the case and began the trial anyway. The UN in March had commended Guatemala [JURIST report] for beginning his long-awaited trial, as it marked the first time ever that a former head of state was tried for genocide by a national tribunal. The former dictator was ordered to stand trial [JURIST report] in January for genocide and crimes against humanity.

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