Guatemala: Court Accepts, Activists Reject Former Dictator’s Candidacy


The Guatemalan Supreme Court rejected an appeal by activists to block the candidacy of former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt in congressional elections this September 9. However, Supreme Court Spokesman Guillermo Melgar said that that the ruling can be appealed for reconsideration.

The legal status of "candidate," according to Guatemalan legislation, grants judicial immunity to Ríos Montt, which would make ineffective the charges initiated against him in Spain in 1999 for crimes genocide, torture and state terrorism. Approximately 70,000 mostly indigenous Guatemalans were killed by government military actions during his 14 month rule (1982-1983), close to a third of the total 30-year civil war death toll. Similar charges against Rios Montt in Guatemala have stalled due to lack of initiative on the part of authorities. Laws don’t prohibit the inscription of candidates with open proceedings against them, only those who have already been sentenced. Presidential candidate and Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, who brought the charges against Ríos Montt, has led the appeal against him.

A spokesman of the right wing party Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (FRG), who supports Ríos Montt’s candidacy told EFE that the appeal never "worried them, because it was inadmissible," and affirmed that "the general will be candidate elect whether his adversaries like it or not." IPS quotes Ríos Montt in a press conference mentioning that "he lacked immunity from prosecution for four years, after quitting Congress to run for president in 2003 (he came in third), saying . . . ‘I was available for four years, and if the others are useless and failed to take legal action, that’s their problem.’"

Several of the human rights organizations that presented the appeal against Ríos Montt have said that they will continue to pursue the issue. Prensa Latina reports that the Association of Relatives of Detained-Disappeared in Guatemala spoke out against his run, citing an arrest warrant against the former general for genocide. Association of Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) President Antonio Caba stated that Ríos Montt must be tried, instead of being accepted as candidate. Centro de Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (CALDH) director Edda Gaviola told IPS that the "candidacy is an international disgrace." Gaviola lamented that the retired general was "playing with the justice system to ensure his immunity."