A session in the genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt ended abruptly Thursday, as his lawyers tried to suspend proceedings over a legal technicality and stormed out, leaving him sitting alone in court.
Rios Montt, who ruled between 1982-83, was ordered to trial for genocide and crimes against humanity in January to answer for a counterinsurgency plan that killed more than 1,700 members of the Ixil indigenous group during Guatemala’s long civil war.
The 86-year-old’s lawyers contend that the judge who ordered the trial should not have presided over pre-trial hearings, but rather another judge, and are seeking to annul the proceedings.
The case must return to the pre-trial phase,’ defense lawyer Cesar Calderon said before walking out of the court. “We can’t have two judicial processes at the same time. This trial must be annulled.”
That left Rios Montt sitting alone in the courtroom without legal counsel. He tried to reach his lawyers by telephone, but got no answer. Judge Yasmin Barrios suggested he appoint a public defender, before calling off the day’s hearing and ordering both sides to reconvene today.
Prosecutors dismissed the walkout by Rios Montt’s lawyers.
“It’s all a political show,” attorney Hector Reyes told reporters. “What the defense team is showing is that they have no legal arguments to defend their client and that they have no way to prove his innocence.”
Prosecutors allege that Rios Montt, an army general before becoming head of a junta that ruled Guatemala, turned a blind eye during the country’s civil war as soldiers used rape, torture and arson to rid Guatemala of leftist insurgents during the 1960 to 1996 civil war.
His defense team has argued Rios Montt had no control over battlefield operations and that genocide did not take place.