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Still waiting on Guatemala’s high court
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Articles in English

Still waiting on Guatemala’s high court

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Despite contradicting reports by local and international press outlets, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court has not rule on the fate of the genocide trial against retired General Efrain Rios Montt and his former security chief Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez. Last week a pre-trial judge ordered the trial go back to its evidentiary phase. However, the three-justice panel, presided by Judge Yasmin Barrios rejected the order and placed the fate of Latin America’s first genocide trial in the hands of the country’s top court.
One thing is for certain; these resolutions seem to create more problems for the trial process than offer solutions. These motions seem to resolve legal minutia without taking into account the larger context of the trial. And as more questions arise, their silence persists.
The court has been meeting since Saturday to try to rule on a series of motions proposed by both the prosecution and defense. On Tuesday, the court resolved a series of motions—none of them addressed Flores’ ruling.

Adapted by: Romina Ruiz-Goiriena

The ruling is still out for Guatemala’s Constitutional Court (CC). The country’s supreme judicial authority must still decide the fate of Latin America’s first genocide trial after pre-trial Judge Carol Patricia Flores ordered proceeding to start at square one.

The court has been meeting since Saturday to try to rule on a series of motions proposed by both the prosecution and defense. On Tuesday, the court resolved a series of motions—none of them addressed Flores’ ruling.

Flores was taken off the case in February 2012 by an appeals court after a defense attorney filed a complaint alleging she was in favor of the prosecution.  She was reinstated last week by the CC, but by now the case against Rios Montt and Rodriguez was days away from hearing closing arguments. In what was supposed to be a procedural evidence hearing, Flores went a step further and attempted to nullify the trial. The move surprised prosecutors, defense lawyers and the international community.

By midday Tuesday, rumors spiraled out of control. Various outlets continued to report that the high court annulled the trial. According to CC magistrate, Martin Guzman, the court started first with procedural motions and still “needs more time before addressing Flores” ruling.”

Guzman said the court is expected to rule on the remaining seven motions as early as next week. But the court’s agenda is still up in the air.

The attorney general’s office accused Rios Montt knew and was aware of the killing of 1,771 Indigenous Ixils in 15 massacres that took place between March 1982 and August 1983, when he was de facto head of state.

“Flores’ ruling was a total surprise for us. It was something we didn’t expect,” Guzman reiterated.

What the CC actually ruled on

The first of the court’s resolution goes back to March 19, the first day of the trial. For the period of over a year, Rios Montt had a team of defense attorneys that have represented him in court. But on that day, he wanted only one lawyer: Francisco Garcia Gudiel.

Similar to the pre-trial process the defense strategy weaned on blocking the trial indefinitely. To do so, they would appoint Gudiel and at the very last minute he would motion against the judge impartiality. Gudiel and sentencing judge Yasmin Barrios have a raucous history in court. If Barrios and her team were obliged to step down, a new sentencing tribunal would be appointed. The defense hoped, they could influence the trial judges to rule in their favor.

“You are correct,” judge Barrios said to Gudiel. “This tribunal has had problems with you in the past. But, we have also accepted your apologies. It has been our mission to contribute to the transparency and objectivity of this court…knowingly you want to create a situation of animosity so that this impedes the trial from taking place. I cannot accept your motion and ask that you now exit the court.”

Barrios ordered Sanchez’s attorneys, Cesar Calderon and Moises Galindo to represent Rios Montt while he hired new counsel.

Gudiel filed a motion to the CC alleging that his client’s constitutional right to choose his defense attorney was violated. On Tueday, the CC ruled in favor of Gudiel. It would now be up to Barrios if to repeat the entire trial or just the hours of the trial Rios Montt did not have an attorney of his choosing.

To bring Gudiel back to the trial could complicate and already murky trial that has been riddled with procedural motions to derail a verdict. Magistrate Mauro Chacon, warned of this when he reasoned his vote for Tuesday’s resolution, “One of the obligations of defense attorneys consists of adhering to the court’s rules and regulation.” Chacon goes on to explain, “it is his responsibility to recuse himself if he knows that he has been in disagreement with the sentencing court where the case will be heard.”

But the other justices; Hector Hugo Perez, Roberto Molina, Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre and Gloria Porras voted otherwise.

Gudiel will return to the trial, if and when the CC decides that the trial will move forward. The defense will additionally be backed by a second resolution in favor of Galindo who protested taking on Rios Montt when his colleague was expelled.

One thing is for certain; these resolutions seem to create more problems for the trial process than offer solutions. These motions seem to resolve legal minutia without taking into account the larger context of the trial. And as more questions arise, their silence persists.

Tribunal wars

Judge Barrios rejected Flores’ ruling and deemed it illegal.  Barrios said that only the CC could order her to return the case file to Flores.

 The second resolution, ordered Barrios to return the file so that Flores could do exactly as she had been instructed to do. According to CC documents, the high court ordered Flores to schedule a hearing to admit evidence previously deemed inadmissible and later return the file to Barrios.

Chacon believes that Flores may have misinterpreted the high court’s order. Now, this evidence hearing is to take place in the next 24 to 48 hours.

We must also wait to hear what Flores decides.

Victims’ lawyers

When the prosecutor’s office heard Flores’ ruling they lodged an appeal citing she had ruled outside of her jurisdiction.  That motion has not been resolved by the CC.

The Reconciliation and Justice Association (known by its Spanish acronym AJR) also appealed Flores’ ruling.  This motion has not been resolved by the high court.

On the other hand, the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH) appealed the ruling on similar grounds. This one was struck down by the CC because of a procedural error in its submission.

A question of time

Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez’s lawyers have protested the CC’s expedited rulings.

Calderon has insisted that if evidence needs to be readmitted in a pre-trial phase, the trial must be nullified. A notion the high court has rejected.  The court expects Flores to readmit the evidence and return the file while magistrates decide where the trial stands.

Another of Rios Montt’s lawyers, Danilo Rodriguez, appealed that the trial was supposed to begin in August and was moved up. The CC denied the motion

Dos Erres and genocide charge

Another case is still pending against Rios Montt. Flores lodged a second genocide charge against the retired general for  his involvement in the massacre of more than 200 people in the village of Dos Erres in Peten state.

Although prosecutors have asked he be charged with extrajudicial assassination, Flores ruled the public ministry to warrant a trial on the new charge. 

The prosecutor’s office appealed and defense attorney Francisco Palomo motioned the charge be upheld. The CC ruled in favor of the defense.

Future unknown

With over have a dozen motions, appeals and complaints backlogged in the nation’s highest court, it is still uncertain which way the trial could move forward.

The court has been meeting since Saturday to try to rule on a series of motions proposed by both the prosecution and defense. On Tuesday, the court resolved a series of motions—none of them addressed Flores’ ruling.

Flores was taken off the case in February 2012 by an appeals court after a defense attorney filed a complaint alleging she was in favor of the prosecution.  She was reinstated last week by the CC, but by now the case against Rios Montt and Rodriguez was days away from hearing closing arguments. In what was supposed to be a procedural evidence hearing, Flores went a step further and attempted to nullify the trial. The move surprised prosecutors, defense lawyers and the international community.

By midday Tuesday, rumors spiraled out of control. Various outlets continued to report that the high court annulled the trial. According to CC magistrate, Martin Guzman, the court started first with procedural motions and still “needs more time before addressing Flores” ruling.”

Guzman said the court is expected to rule on the remaining seven motions as early as next week. But the court’s agenda is still up in the air.

The attorney general’s office accused Rios Montt knew and was aware of the killing of 1,771 Indigenous Ixils in 15 massacres that took place between March 1982 and August 1983, when he was de facto head of state.

“Flores’ ruling was a total surprise for us. It was something we didn’t expect,” Guzman reiterated.

What the CC actually ruled on

The first of the court’s resolution goes back to March 19, the first day of the trial. For the period of over a year, Rios Montt had a team of defense attorneys that have represented him in court. But on that day, he wanted only one lawyer: Francisco Garcia Gudiel.

Similar to the pre-trial process the defense strategy weaned on blocking the trial indefinitely. To do so, they would appoint Gudiel and at the very last minute he would motion against the judge impartiality. Gudiel and sentencing judge Yasmin Barrios have a raucous history in court. If Barrios and her team were obliged to step down, a new sentencing tribunal would be appointed. The defense hoped, they could influence the trial judges to rule in their favor.

“You are correct,” judge Barrios said to Gudiel. “This tribunal has had problems with you in the past. But, we have also accepted your apologies. It has been our mission to contribute to the transparency and objectivity of this court…knowingly you want to create a situation of animosity so that this impedes the trial from taking place. I cannot accept your motion and ask that you now exit the court.”

Barrios ordered Sanchez’s attorneys, Cesar Calderon and Moises Galindo to represent Rios Montt while he hired new counsel.

Gudiel filed a motion to the CC alleging that his client’s constitutional right to choose his defense attorney was violated. On Tueday, the CC ruled in favor of Gudiel. It would now be up to Barrios if to repeat the entire trial or just the hours of the trial Rios Montt did not have an attorney of his choosing.

To bring Gudiel back to the trial could complicate and already murky trial that has been riddled with procedural motions to derail a verdict. Magistrate Mauro Chacon, warned of this when he reasoned his vote for Tuesday’s resolution, “One of the obligations of defense attorneys consists of adhering to the court’s rules and regulation.” Chacon goes on to explain, “it is his responsibility to recuse himself if he knows that he has been in disagreement with the sentencing court where the case will be heard.”

But the other justices; Hector Hugo Perez, Roberto Molina, Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre and Gloria Porras voted otherwise.

Gudiel will return to the trial, if and when the CC decides that the trial will move forward. The defense will additionally be backed by a second resolution in favor of Galindo who protested taking on Rios Montt when his colleague was expelled.

One thing is for certain; these resolutions seem to create more problems for the trial process than offer solutions. These motions seem to resolve legal minutia without taking into account the larger context of the trial. And as more questions arise, their silence persists.

Tribunal wars

Judge Barrios rejected Flores’ ruling and deemed it illegal.  Barrios said that only the CC could order her to return the case file to Flores.

The second resolution, ordered Barrios to return the file so that Flores could do exactly as she had been instructed to do. According to CC documents, the high court ordered Flores to schedule a hearing to admit evidence previously deemed inadmissible and later return the file to Barrios.

Chacon believes that Flores may have misinterpreted the high court’s order. Now, this evidence hearing is to take place in the next 24 to 48 hours.

We must also wait to hear what Flores decides.

Victims’ lawyers

When the prosecutor’s office heard Flores’ ruling they lodged an appeal citing she had ruled outside of her jurisdiction.  That motion has not been resolved by the CC.

The Reconciliation and Justice Association (known by its Spanish acronym AJR) also appealed Flores’ ruling.  This motion has not been resolved by the high court.

On the other hand, the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH) appealed the ruling on similar grounds. This one was struck down by the CC because of a procedural error in its submission.

A question of time

Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez’s lawyers have protested the CC’s expedited rulings.

Calderon has insisted that if evidence needs to be readmitted in a pre-trial phase, the trial must be nullified. A notion the high court has rejected.  The court expects Flores to readmit the evidence and return the file while magistrates decide where the trial stands.

Another of Rios Montt’s lawyers, Danilo Rodriguez, appealed that the trial was supposed to begin in August and was moved up. The CC denied the motion

Dos Erres and genocide charge

Another case is still pending against Rios Montt. Flores lodged a second genocide charge against the retired general for  his involvement in the massacre of more than 200 people in the village of Dos Erres in Peten state.

Although prosecutors have asked he be charged with extrajudicial assassination, Flores ruled the public ministry to warrant a trial on the new charge. 

The prosecutor’s office appealed and defense attorney Francisco Palomo motioned the charge be upheld. The CC ruled in favor of the defense.

Future unknown

With over have a dozen motions, appeals and complaints backlogged in the nation’s highest court, it is still uncertain which way the trial could move forward.

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