October 25, 2013 – In a move that could profoundly affect justice in Guatemala, the Constitutional Court issued a ruling on Oct. 22 asking lower courts to reconsider Rios Montt’s right to protection under a defunct 1986 amnesty law.
"Survivors in the Ixil have been seeking justice for over a decade. This ruling opens the door to a possible amnesty and represents yet another attempt to ensure impunity for high-level military officials who committed egregious violations during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict,” said GHRC Director Kelsey Alford-Jones. “The Court’s decision could represent a huge set-back to other emblematic human rights convictions.”
In her dissenting opinions, Justice Gloria Porras called the ruling: “incorrect,” “ambiguous,” and evidence of an “incomplete analysis” of past decisions, leading to an “unnecessary delay in prosecution of crimes against humanity.”
The 1986 amnesty law was passed just days before the military dictatorship handed power over to a democratic government. Seeking to protect military leaders from any prosecution, the law granted amnesty for “political and related crimes.” It was replaced by the 1996 National Reconciliation Law, which expressly denied amnesty for genocide, forced disappearance, and other crimes against humanity. One year later the Guatemalan Congress repealed all amnesty laws passed prior to 1996 with the stated goal of eliminating “impunity and social polarization.”
The Inter-American Commission and Court on Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee, and many other legal analysts have repeatedly declared that amnesty cannot be granted in cases of genocide and other crimes against humanity. Guatemalan judges upheld these standards in previous rulings, most recently in August of 2013 when the Constitutional Court denied Ríos Montt’s first appeal for amnesty.
On May 10, 2013 Ríos Montt was found guilty of overseeing acts of genocide and war crimes against Guatemala’s Ixil Mayan population in 1982 and 1983. The landmark trial marked the first time a former head of state had been tried for genocide by his country's own judicial system, and was considered a key step in addressing impunity for crimes of the past. The guilty verdict was annulled 10 days later by the Constitutional Court on questionable legal grounds.
“The Guatemala Human Rights Commission reiterates its solidarity with the genocide survivors from the Ixil region,” said Alford-Jones. “We call on the Guatemalan Human Right Ombudsman and the international community to closely monitor the process and take all possible steps to end impunity in Guatemala. We also call on the Guatemalan Government to uphold national and international laws, and guarantee access to justice for all Guatemalan citizens.”
Kathryn Johnson, Assistant Director