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Guatemala court voids ex-dictator Rios Montt's genocide conviction

The Guatemala Constitutional Court [official website, in Spanish] on Tuesday overturned the genocide conviction of ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt [JURIST news archive] and ordered the trial to resume from the point that it was stopped on April 19. Earlier this month Rios Montt was found guilty of the genocide, torture and rape of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Mayans during his 1982-83 rule. The ex-dictator was sentenced [JURIST report] by a three-judge panel headed by Judge Jasmine Barrios to 80 years in prison. The constitutional court annulled the previous ruling and everything that happened at trial since April 19 when Rios Montt was without a defense lawyer after the defense team walked out of the court house in protest of "illegal proceedings." Rios Montt refused to use the public defender.

Rios Montt's trial marks the first time a head of state has been prosecuted for genocide in a national court and the UN has lauded [JURIST report] Guatemala's efforts. Last month, Judge Flores, after being reinstated, attempted to invalidate [JURIST report] a year-and-a-half of court proceedings while she was recused from the case. However, Barrios, who issued the verdict, continued the trial [JURIST report] despite the prior ruling annulling the case. Rios Montt was previously 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. Rios Montt's trial began on March 19 after a court ordered [JURIST report] him to stand trial last January.

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