The United Nations human rights office today said it was “concerned” about the legal rights of Guatemalans after a high court overturned the 80 year prison sentence against former military leader, Efrain Ríos Montt.
“Amid continued legal uncertainty about what the ruling of the Constitutional Court annulling the verdict on the Ríos Montt case means in practice, we are concerned about the right of victims in Guatemala to obtain remedies,” the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, told journalists in Geneva.
“The victims have waited three decades for justice for atrocities committed against the Ixil population, and it is unfortunate that a verdict of such importance has been annulled on procedural grounds,” Mr. Rupert continued.
He added that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recalls “States' obligations to prosecute those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity” and that it hopes “this extremely important trial will be decided on its merits.”
Mr. Ríos Montt was sentenced on 10 May to 80 years for his leading role in the killing of 1,771 people during his time in office between 1982 and 1983, as well as for the forced displacement, starvation, torture, and systematic rape and sexual assault that were deliberately inflicted on Guatemala’s Mayan Ixil communities.
A three-judge panel concluded that Mr. Ríos Montt had ordered the plans that led to the genocide, had full knowledge of the atrocities committed, and did nothing to stop them despite having the power to do so. In all, some 200,000 people – over 80 per cent of them of indigenous Mayan origin – were killed during the 36-year-long civil war, but the period of Ríos Montt’s rule is considered one of the bloodiest in the conflict.
The conviction was welcomed by UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay, who hailed Guatemala for making history by becoming the first country in the world to convict a former head of State for genocide in its own national court.
The case against Mr. Ríos Montt was overturned on 20 May, allowing the 86-year-old Mr. Ríos Montt to return to house arrest, according to media reports.