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The Case of José Efraín Ríos Montt: Hitting the Reset Button on Justice in Guatemala
 
When former Guatemalan leader, José Efraín Ríos Montt, was found guilty of genocide on 10 May, it was a historical moment not only in the country, but for the world. It was the first time a former leader had been put on trial and convicted of genocide – one of the four crimes and violations within the Responsibility to Protect framework – by a national, rather than international, court. For the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, a Guatemala-based organization founded by survivors of the state’s military campaign against indigenous villages 12 years ago, the conviction was “an opportunity to recuperate the truth that has been denied to our families and to the Guatemalan society…it was an opportunity to confront the past and address the root causes of the discrimination” they had suffered. Human Right Watch‘s Americas Director, José Miguel Vicanco, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) also welcomed the verdict, with USHMM stating that it “sent a powerful message…to the world that nobody, not even a former head of state, is above the law when it comes to committing genocide.”  It was a victory for justice and the ongoing fight against impunity as well as another step towards healing for the victims and society – until the Guatemalan Constitutional Court overturned the conviction on 20 May. We are now left to wonder where the case stands, what this will mean for the victims and what effect this will have on justice and reconciliation in Guatemala.
 
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