On January 26, 2012, a Guatemalan court determined that there is enough evidence to charge former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt with genocide and crimes against humanity. The ruling marks a turning point in Guatemalan efforts to redress human rights violations perpetrated by the military against indigenous peoples during Ríos Montt’s “scorched earth” counterinsurgency operations in the 1980s.
Ríos Montt was the military leader for seventeen months in 1982 and 1983 after he took power and abolished the constitution. Prosecutor Manuel Vásquez told the court that he will produce documents, videos, and statements proving that Ríos Montt “had direct participation in the implementation of the plans” which resulted in the deaths of 1,771 people, 1,485 acts of sexual violence, and 29,000 Guatemalans being displaced.
For fourteen years, Ríos Montt had enjoyed immunity as a member of congress; however his term expired on January 14, opening the possibility of charges against him.
Ríos Montt is accused of laying the foundation for the military plans Victoria 82, Firmeza 83, and Plan Sofia in which the military used counterinsurgency operations to “exterminate subversive elements,” including the elderly, women, and children. The Guatemalan military carried out actions in the Ixil Triangle of the Quiché region and in other areas of the country. The Ixil Triangle consists of three ethnic Mayan-Ixil towns.
One of the key pieces of the trial will be to prove chain of command: proving that superior officers, including Ríos Montt, were giving orders to and condoning the actions of inferior officers. The defense argued that Ríos Montt did not have command responsibility over his officers in the highlands, and that he is not responsible for the massacres and human rights violations.