Justice Evades Guatemala
The trial of former Military Intelligence Chief, Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, came to a close on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. The Guatemala Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the country's military committed genocide and crimes against humanity in the 1980s. Despite this ruling, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez was acquitted of all charges.
In 1982, General Rios Montt seized power in a military coup and appointed Rodriguez as Head of Military Intelligence. During their time in government, the country experienced the bloodiest phase of the 36-year civil war. The military committed atrocities including genocide, rape, and torture. More than 200,000 people were killed and 43,000 disappeared. Eighty percent of victims were indigenous Mayan Ixil people. These actions became known as the Silent Genocide.
In 2013, Montt was convicted of genocide. It was the first time a former head of state was convicted of genocide using a country's domestic court system. However, the ruling was quickly overturned and a retrial began. Montt was deemed unfit to appear in court in 2015 and died in April 2018 before the conclusion of the retrial.
In Rodriguez’s final testimony to the Guatemala Supreme Court, he denied any involvement or knowledge of such orders or actions. He claimed the testimonies and evidence presented against him were fraudulent.
After a drawn out stop-and-start process, 69 testimonies, and over 600 documents, the court finally handed down their ruling this past Wednesday.
The judges that voted to acquit Rodriguez noted: “There is no evidence that shows that the accused had knowledge of what was happening in the conflict areas ... the accused could not issue orders due to the rank and position he held in the army.”
The sole dissenting judge, Sara Yoc Yol, argued: “He should have been sentenced because he handed over all that information and as far as I’m concerned he is guilty of genocide.”
While waiting for the ruling, family members, human rights supporters, and survivors gathered to lay flowers, photos, and candles outside the Supreme Court.
Justice has continued to elude Guatemalans. While genocide and crimes against humanity were proven this week, the acquittal of those involved or potentially responsible furthers the pain felt by the victims.
Before the trial, Traditional Maya Ixil authority Diego Ceto said that for the survivors, the 2013 guilty verdict stands. They simply want justice, to ensure the past is never repeated. "We are trusting in the judicial system of Guatemala.”
Now that the trial is over, that trust may have been jeopardized.