Judge denies former Guatemalan dictator amnesty

Former de facto President (1982-1983) Jose Efrain Rios Montt, at a court hearing in Guatemala City on March 1, 2012

Story highlights

  • Efrain Rios Montt will face a genocide trial as planned
  • He had asked the court for amnesty
  • During his rule, there were massacres in provinces with heavy indigenous populations

A Guatemalan judge Thursday declined to grant former dictator Efrain Rios Montt amnesty from genocide charges, paving the way for a trial.

Montt's defense team had filed a motion seeking amnesty last week.

The judge argued that the country's 1996 National Reconciliation Law, which coincided with the end of the country's civil war, does not guarantee amnesty for those accused of human rights abuses.

Secondly, the judge said, Guatemala is party to international treaties that obligate it to prosecute crimes of genocide.

Rios Montt ruled Guatemala from 1982 to 1983.

He came to power in a coup and led a military junta while Guatemala was in a bloody civil war between the army and leftist guerrillas. The war did not end until 1996, leaving more than 200,000 people dead and 1 million as refugees.

Prosecutors argued that Rios Montt was aware of the repressive strategies that the military was using against anyone suspected of being a guerrilla, such as killings, forced disappearances and kidnappings, the state-run AGN news agency reported.

The human rights abuse and genocide allegations against him come from his "scorched earth" campaign to root out insurgents in provinces heavily populated by indigenous populations.

He is accused of being responsible for the deaths of more than 1,700 Mayan residents.

During his rule, there were massacres in these provinces in which, according to the Guatemalan truth commission, between 70% and 90% of some villages were razed. The commission found that during this and other periods of the civil war, there were also reported cases of rape, especially of Mayan women.