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City Bar Delegation Views Early Resumption of Genocide Trial Critical for Rule of Law in Guatemala

Calling the trial of former Guatemalan President Efraín Ríos Montt, and his former head of military intelligence Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, “a historic and crucial experience in Guatemala’s establishment of the rule of law,” a Delegation of business lawyers from the U.S. and Latin America urges the resumption of the proceeding at the earliest possible date.

The Delegation, organized by the New York City Bar Association, traveled to Guatemala on August 12th and 13th to meet with a wide range of individuals and groups with an interest in the trial. Today the Delegation releases its report on its visit.

In March of this year, Guatemala put the two men on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity against Guatemala’s Maya Ixil indigenous population. It was the first time a domestic court had tried a former head of state for genocide. The trial resulted in a guilty verdict against Rios Montt, who was sentenced to 80 years in prison, while Rodriguez Sanchez was acquitted of both charges. However, just ten days after the trial court’s verdict, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, granting a constitutional amparo request from the defendants, overturned the verdict and set the trial back to its status on April 19th. A three-judge panel has been appointed to oversee the next stage of the case, but it has not yet set a date for a new trial except to announce that it will not take place before April 2014.

“The Delegation recommends the resumption of the Proceeding at the earliest possible date, with the expectation that the Proceeding will result in a fair and final decision on the merits of the charges one way or the other,” the delegation states in its seven-page report. “The Delegation recognizes that such resumption will require extraordinary measures in scheduling the Proceeding, but considers that this is appropriate, even necessary, in light of the significance of the Proceeding for the rule of law and international business opportunity in Guatemala….The Delegation recommends and urges that all participants and interested parties in the resumed Proceeding, as well as the Government of Guatemala, exercise and publicly express full and constant respect for the law and procedures, including internationally-recognized standards, and specifically for the status, safety, and independence of the judges, attorneys, and witnesses.”

“I believe what we saw was both encouraging and disturbing all at once,” said Eric Ordway, a member of the delegation who is a partner at Weil Gotshal & Manges and a member of the City Bar’s Vance Center Committee. “Clearly, it was encouraging to see the vigorous prosecution of a former military leader by the domestic courts of a previously war-torn country. Nevertheless, many of the concerns raised by participants during the visit left some of us with questions as to whether the trial itself and political reactions to it might result in the judicial system taking a step back. We hope that the rule of law not only continues to be observed but is also regarded as critical to the country’s future political and economic well-being.”

In its report, the Delegation addresses the view of some in Guatemala that a finding of genocide, or even a trial on such a charge, against a former leader of the country would inevitably harm the country’s image and business climate internationally. While taking no view on the veracity of the charges, “[t]he Delegation is firmly of the view that the contrary is the case,” states the report. “Indeed, several members of the Delegation come from countries that have accounted for their own pasts in this way, and then transformed into vibrant economies and political systems.”

José Ugaz, a delegation member from Peru who was Special State Attorney during the investigations into the Fujimori regime which resulted in hundreds of investigations and 120 incarcerations, including 14 Generals, said, “When foreign investors see that a country has well-established judicial institutions, capable of punishing those in power who commit serious crimes, they feel confident that their investments will be protected by the rule of law. The delegation considers it of utmost importance for the good of Guatemala that the case be concluded on the merits, and that in the near future the appointments process for attorney general, judges and other officials be transparent, free of political influence, and carried out with the participation of independent experts from Guatemala and other countries.”

During its two-day visit, the Delegation met with, among many others, the President and an Associate Justice (Magistrado Titular) of the Guatemalan Constitutional Court; The President of the Guatemalan Supreme Court; The President of the Criminal Chamber of the Guatemalan Supreme Court; The Controlling Judge (Juez Controlador) of Guatemala’s High Risk Court who conducted part of the preliminary phase of the proceeding; The Chief Judge and Members of the High-Risk Court who conducted the trial in the proceeding; The Human Rights Ombudsman of Guatemala; The Country Representative in Guatemala of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; and one of the attorneys from former President Ríos Montt’s trial defense team.

The members of the Delegation, who participated strictly as individuals, not as representatives of their employers, and on a voluntary, pro bono basis, were Hunter T. Carter (U.S.), Arent Fox, chair of City Bar Inter-American Affairs Committee; Ciro Colombara (Chile), Rivadaneira, Colombara & Zegers; Robert Cusumano (U.S.), Executive Director of the Legal Horizons Foundation, former general counsel of ACE Group of Insurance Companies, and member of Vance Center Committee; Eric Ordway (U.S.), Weil Gotshal & Manges, member of Vance Center Committee; Alexander Papachristou (U.S.), executive director of Vance Center; Lindsay Sykes (Bolivia and U.S.), Ferrere; Amanda Taub (United States), Member of the International Human Rights Committee of the City Bar, counsel Buhler, Duggal & Henry; José Ugaz (Peru), Benitez, Forno & Ugaz; José Antonio Urrutia (Chile), Urrutia & Cia Abogados; and Macarena Vasallo (Chile), Urrutia & Cia Abogados.

The report may be read here: http://bit.ly/1aYajvN

For the Spanish version of the report, click here: http://bit.ly/18PnqcD

 

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