[JURIST] A Guatemalan court on Wednesday held that former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt [JURIST news archive] can stand for trial for genocide and crimes against humanity but cannot be sentenced because he suffers from dementia. The court held that a special closed trial [Diario de Centro América report, in Spanish] can be held where all evidence and witness testimony will be presented with representative of Ríos Montt present. Ríos Montt’s lawyers have an opportunity to appeal. This ruling comes after a Guatemalan court, earlier this month, ordered Rios Montt to undergo competency tests [JURIST report] to determine whether he was fit to stand trial.
This news marks another hurdle surrounding the ongoing trial of former dictator Rios Montt for his actions in the Guatemalan civil war. 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. The trial was subsequently delayed [JURIST report] in January, when one of the judges on a three-judge panel was asked to recuse herself from the trial on the grounds that she was biased because she wrote her master’s thesis on genocide. 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 [JURIST report] Guatemala’s efforts.