[JURIST] The retrial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt [JURIST news archive] on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity was delayed on Monday. Two of the three judges on the panel accepted the defense’s motion that the third judge, Judge Jeannette Valdez, should recuse herself from the trial on the grounds that she is biased because she wrote her master’s thesis on genocide. Rios Montt is being tried for ordering military operations that led to the torture, rape and murder of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Mayans between 1982 and 1983, part of Guatemala’s bloody 1960-1996 Civil War [Global Security backgrounder]. Rios Montt was convicted on these charges in 2013 and sentenced to 80 years in prison, but 10 days later his sentence was overturned [JURIST reports] by the Constitutional Court [official website] on procedural grounds and a retrial was ordered.
Monday’s delay marks another hurdle surrounding the ongoing trial of former dictator Rios Montt for his actions in the Guatemalan civil war. The war 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. In May the Guatemalan Congress approved a resolution [JURIST report] denying any existence of genocide during the civil war. Rios Montt was previously protected [JURIST report] from prosecution 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 marks the first time a former head of state has been prosecuted for genocide in a national court, and the UN has praised Guatemala’s efforts.