José Efraín Ríos Montt, the President of Guatemala from 23 March 1982 to 8 August 1983, will face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, following a finding that there is sufficient evidence to try him in relation to his alleged part in the massacres committed in the Ixil area during his rule.
Human rights organisations have reported that during this period some 10,000 Guatemalans, mainly indigenous, were executed extrajudicially. The number of displaced people is reported to have reached 100,000.
During what has been a long legal process, the former military leader tried to make use of an Amnesty Law which had been established by the military before it handed over power in 1986. However, a tribunal ruling determined that former President Ríos Montt was unable to rely upon this legislation.
Ríos Montt, 86 years old, is the first former Head of State charged with genocide by a Latin American court. His lawyer, Francisco Palomo predicted that the Judge would decide against his client, “due to the overwhelming pressure from the international community and humanitarian organisations”.
Whilst human rights organisations celebrate the recent decision, which they consider to be a milestone in the history of Guatemala, in other parts of the Guatemalan society followers of the former leader believe that Ríos Montt only did what was necessary to save Guatemala from communism.
General Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, Head of Military Intelligence under the Ríos Montt regime, has also been charged.
The parties are expected to present their evidence next Wednesday.