Judge Suspends Guatemalan Genocide Trial, Invalidating Weeks of Testimony

Jack Bedrosian

In a startling turn of events this week, a judge in Guatemala suspended a landmark genocide trial, to the outrage of many indigenous Guatemalans.Guatemala's former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt was being tried for the torture, rape and murder of over 1,700 indigenous Ixils by his regime in the early 1980's. The case marked the first time in world history that a dictator has been officially tried for genocide in his home country, says Marcie Mersky of the International Center for Transitional Justice.But on Thursday the presiding judge, Carol Patricia Flores, invalidated the testimony and effectively set the trial back to November 2011, before Montt was charged.Since March 19, witnesses have been giving detailed, chilling accounts of violence. From New America Media: “They caught up to the woman and they struck her in the head with a machete and dragged her like a dog,” said [Tiburcio] Utuy of a scene he said he saw while hiding from soldiers. Experts have testified that racism toward the majority indigenous was key to slaughter in Maya villages, which occurred in the context of counterinsurgency against leftist rebels relatively small in number. Many recalled experience in terms referring to animals. “Just as chicks run from hawks, that's what they did to us. Why? If we are human beings?” said witness Maria Cedillo.Judge Flores was under mounting right-wing pressure to halt the proceedings, including from President Otto Perez Molina. She claims she was complying with orders from the nation's top court. From the Christian Science Monitor: Ms. Flores said she was following a directive from the Constitutional Court … “I am not acting out of my own persuasion. I am acting in accordance with what top justices have asked me to do,” Judge Flores said. According to documents read at the hearing, however, the Constitutional Court ordered Flores to review and readmit the evidence previously deemed inadmissible, then return the file to the sentencing court–in less than 24 hours–to resume the trial.Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz is appealing the decision, saying Flores disobeyed the high court.

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