Pillay hails start of genocide trial in Guatemala

GENEVA (18 March 2013) -- The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Monday welcomed the ground-breaking trial of Guatemala’s former head of state and former head of intelligence, due to begin on 19 March, and urged the authorities “to take all necessary measures to ensure that judges, prosecutors, lawyers and others involved are protected from intimidation and reprisals.”

The trial of Guatemala’s former head of state Efraín Ríos Montt, and former head of intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, for genocide and crimes against humanity is set to start on Tuesday, after the Constitutional Court rejected a writ of protection (‘amparo’) filed by Ríos Montt’s defence lawyers that cited a 1986 amnesty law.

"I welcome the beginning of this historic trial, and I hope that it will signal arrival of long-awaited justice for thousands of victims of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity committed during the murderous 36-year conflict in Guatemala," Pillay said. “I also commend the decision of the Constitutional Court – genocide and crimes against humanity should never be covered by amnesties. Along with war crimes, these are among the gravest crimes known to mankind.”

“This is the first time, anywhere in the world, that a former head of State is being put on trial for genocide by a national tribunal,” she said. “Until quite recently, no one believed a trial like this could possibly take place in Guatemala, and the fact that it is happening there, 30 years after the alleged crimes were committed, should give encouragement to victims of human rights violations all over the world.”

The High Commissioner called on the authorities to uphold their responsibility to guarantee a fair and independent trial.

"The principles of independence of the judiciary imply that judges must be protected from undue influence, inducements, threats or interference, in order to ensure the proper enforcement of justice, with full impartiality and transparency, and due process," Pillay said.

Noting a recent wave of intimidation and attacks against journalists, judicial personnel and human rights defenders, including the killing in February of a lawyer working on corruption cases, the High Commissioner urged the authorities “to take all necessary measures to ensure that judges, prosecutors, lawyers and others involved may carry out their functions without fear for their life, integrity and security, or those of their families. The protection of all those involved in this crucial case is essential, if the rule of law is to be seen to be respected, and truth and justice are to prevail in Guatemala.”


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