A group of UN experts on Wednesday encouraged Guatemalan authorities to continue to seek the establishment of internal and transitional "truth and justice" in the wake of the trial of Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt [JURIST news archive]. Last Friday, a Guatemalan court sentenced Rios Montt to 80 years in prison [JURIST report] for his role in presiding over the brutal junta responsible for the torture, rape and murder of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Mayans between 1982 and 1983. The trial marked the first time that a national court prosecuted a former head of state for genocide and crimes against humanity. UN experts advised the government [press release] that it must continue to foster an ideology of normative justice in order to ensure the non-recurrence of the "heinous crimes" that characterized the nation's civil war. According to the UN, Friday's court decision marks a "profoundly significant milestone" in the fight against impunity, and human rights violations including enforced disappearances, arbitrary executions, rape and forced displacement. In addition, the UN praised the judgment as an example for nations around the world struggling to address victims' rights after periods of mass atrocities, and as a reflection of the principle that "marginalized people" must have the same access to justice "as the most powerful."
The UN has shown continuous support for Guatemala's efforts to try Rios Mont. In March 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. In April Judge Patricia Flores, who recused herself from the case in 2011, halted the trial [JURIST report] and attempted to invalidate a year-and-a-half of court proceedings once she was reinstated last month. However, Barrios continued the trial [JURIST report] against Rios Montt despite the prior ruling annulling the case. Montt was 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.