Monday Night Meeting with the Board of the Asociación Guatemalteca de Juristas

Kendra Wergin

On Monday night we had the opportunity to meet with four wonderful lawyers from the Guatemalan chapter of the Association of American Jurists, a group very similar to the National Lawyers Guild. They were kind enough to provide us with a general explanation of the trial system in Guatemala (something we’d all found confusing) and the political and social context in which this trial is taking place. Their passion and energy never waned during our two hour meeting.

As the four lawyers introduced themselves, they made a number of comments that I found really powerful and indicative of the importance of this trial:

“This is a story of passion.”

“We are shaping history.”

“We are seeing the consequences of all of the human rights violations from the last 36 years.”

“We had to be a little bit crazy to get here.”

“It was very dangerous to raise our voices… it was intense work because we didn’t always have many lawyers willing to do this. We’ve always been trying to improve the situation for human rights in our country.”

They also made us feel really glad to be here; one said “your presence is very, very gratifying,” and that was a commonly reiterated comment. I think this speaks both to international attention generally (as a means of affirming the importance of the trial) and to attention from American lawyers – given that the United States is not free of responsibility for what happened in Guatemala. We had a lengthy discussion about the role of the U.S.; be sure to check back later this week for another blog post about this topic.

In terms of the trial itself, one lawyer initially characterized it as “of a character more political than juridical,” a sentiment reinforced by their subsequent explanations of the political and legal systems here. He went on to explain the four main power groups within politics and the law (which appear to be more interchangeable terms than any of us would like).

The consensus among this group (and I’ve heard this elsewhere as well) is that there is no doubt that Rios Montt will be convicted at this stage of the trial, but as one of the lawyers pointed out last night, once the case moves to appeal (as it inevitably will), there will be a whole new set of judges, and the strong leadership that Judge Barrios had demonstrated so far may or may not transfer to the next stage. One lawyer mentioned that the defense lawyers are excellent, and although it may not look like they’re doing significant work, they have a very well designed strategy. On the whole, the group seemed concerned about systemic obstacles that continue to impede the pursuit of justice, but we all agreed on the domestic and international significance of the fact that this trial has happened at all.

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