Inside and Outside the Court, Demands Made to Continue Genocide Trial

Trial Court Judge Barrios declares yesterday’s Annulment decision by the Preliminary Hearings Judge Flores Illegal:  Trial court temporarily suspends Genocide final arguments until a pronouncement by the Constitutional Court clarifies the Appeal filed by the Prosecution

Carrie Anne Comer

19 April, 2013

After the shocking decision by Judge Carol Patricia Flores yesterday to annul the genocide trial in its final stages, last night the Public Prosecutor’s office and multiple civil society organizations released strong condemnations about the illegality of the decision. Presiding judge Jazmin Barrios affirmed that the trial would continued this morning as scheduled at 8:30am, and an urgent call to fill the court with people in solidarity with the victims and survivors was issued.

By 7:30am this morning the Plaza de Justicia in front of the court was filled with an array of people—survivors from around the country, representatives of human rights and civil society organizations, family members of the forcibly disappeared, international accompaniers and an overwhelming contingent of press both from mainstream and alternative media.  Handmade posters were hung on the exterior gates, demanding justice and expressing solidarity with the Ixil people. Rows of candles were lit in front of the court building, people carried red carnations and buttons declaring ‘My heart is Ixil’ were distributed.

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Shortly afterwards, the seats and aisles of the courtroom were filled. Francisco Dall’Anese, the chief of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) sat in the front row, sending a strong message, as he has vigorously advocated for the independence of the judiciary and condemned the escalating environment of conflict being promoted through media and political campaigns. Representatives from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and international ambassadors from multiple countries, including the United States, were also present.

Both José Efraín Rios Montt and Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sánchez appeared punctually in court, though without their respective attorneys, in spite of Judge Barrios’ insistence yesterday that if the defense attorneys did not appear they would be held in contempt of court and public defenders would be appointed.

At 8:30am, as dozens of journalists crowded the bench, Jazmin Barrios preceded to read the Tribunal’s prepared statement. Dressed in black, instead of her usual bright colors, she spoke with intense conviction, her statements occasionally being punctuated by fervent applause from the public and cries for ‘justicia’.

In brief, she declared yesterday’s resolution by Judge Carol Patricia Flores to be illegal, and insisted that her Tribunal ‘does not respond to illegal resolutions.’ She declared that they would not accept the ruling of Judge Flores, because doing so would compromise the independence of the judiciary. After citing copious national and international regulations, she temporarily suspended the hearing, in order to await the Constitutional Court’s decision on the matter, recognizing its jurisdiction as the nation’s highest legal authority. She nonetheless insisted that once the trial recommenced, the defense had the opportunity to present only six more witnesses and then closing arguments from both sides would be heard.

In light of the absence of the defense attorneys, the prosecution requested that public defenders be appointed to Rios Montt and Rodríguez Sanchez. After a brief deliberation, Judge Barrios ordered the assignation of public defenders and insisted that the absent attorneys be held accountable for abandoning their clients.

The hearing concluded with an overwhelming outpour of support for Judge Barrios, which she graciously acknowledged, thanking the public for trusting in the judiciary. Chants for justice and truth echoed through the room for more than ten minutes, as well as shows of tremendous support for the survivors, members of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) present in the courtroom.

After the hearing, Dall’Anese of the CICIG announced that they would take action against Judge Flores, echoing Attorney General Paz y Paz’ statement last night that the Flores’ annulment made a mockery of the victims and of the justice system.  She reiterated that legal action against Flores would follow, as she ‘disobeyed and went much further than she should have.” Ramón Cadena, of the International Commission of Jurists, also publicly called for Flores to be removed from her position on account of yesterday’s resolution.

As the hundreds of people present in the courtroom filed down to the outside plaza, a march was convened to accompany the prosecution walking over to the Constitutional Court (link: www.cc.gob.gt ). Approximately 250 witnesses, survivors, human rights defenders, international accompaniers and journalists took to the street, marching and chanting, towards the doors of the country’s highest court of law. There, accompanied by a drum line, they insisted that the press be let inside and demanded that justice and truth prevail over impunity and silence.

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Tension is at an all time high, and increased international attention is necessary, not only to monitor the judicial system, but in support of other actors within the government and civil society. Campaigns have continued to discredit the trial in what appears to be an attempt to influence the decisions of the Constitutional Court and the trial court presided by Judge Barrios, in an attempt to erode the independence of the judiciary and the credibility of the Attorney General’s team. Perhaps most concerning is the attack on the dignity of the survivors who, through the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) have spent more than a decade preparing for this trial, in extremely precarious situations.

The Constitutional Court must now issue a resolution about Judge Flores’ decision, determining if the trial shall resume at the present stage of closing arguments or be annulled and ordered to begin anew from the initial filing of charges almost 2 years ago. Hope is high that a favorable resolution will be issued, so as to conclude the trial. Until that time, the prosecution and civil complainants will continue working on their concluding arguments.

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In the words of Francisco Soto of CALDH, in a declaration as he left the Constitutional Court:

‘We are asking the Court at this time to declare in a clear and precise manner, as soon as possible, that the trial continue, so that justice may be had at last by the thousands of victims in our country. We want the court to play this important role at this time, now that the entire country is awaiting its decision. The international community is awaiting its decision. Today the chance for thousands of victims to receive justice is on the court’s shoulders. So we request that this honorable court, in the briefest time possible, resolve this matter and order that the trial continue, and that the rest of the evidence be presented. That the tribunal be independent and free from pressures. That justice be done in our country so that the justice system can truly contribute to memory, truth and reconciliation.’

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