[JURIST] A Guatemalan court on Tuesday ordered former dictator Efrain Rios Montt [JURIST news archive] to undergo competency tests to determine whether he is fit to stand trial for his alleged role in the torture, rape and murder of 1,771 indigenous people between 1982 and 1983 during Guatemala’s 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. Under the present competency order, Rios Montt will be hospitalized [AP report] and will undergo a number of medical and psychological evaluations to determine whether he has been overcome by dementia, rendering him unfit to stand trial.
Tuesday’s 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.