Friday, May 10, 2013

Genocide on Trial, Day 26: Concluding arguments, "You cannot deny the undeniable"

NISGUA continues live coverage of the trial in Guatemala of Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Read our previous summaries: Day 1, 2, 3, 4/5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11-14, 12, 13/14, 15/16, 17/18, 19, 20-1, 20-2, 21, Constitutional Court decisions, trial suspension, Day 22, 23, 24/25 and our full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.

News broke on day 25 that the genocide trial would move to conclusions that same day. After nearly three weeks of delays, public spectators and press rushed to fill the courtroom gallery Wednesday afternoon as word spread that Judge Barrios had in fact ordered closing arguments.

Public Prosecutor Orlando López set the stage for prosecution closing arguments with an in-depth multimedia presentation summarizing all trial evidence. Public prosecutor López systematized eyewitness testimonies exposing the quantitative conclusions from witnesses accounts of torture, murder, and violence.

Public prosecutor López's systematization of testimonial evidence reveals patterns. The atrocities committed were not isolated events. Of 94 eyewitnesses, 94 declared at least one member of their family was killed by the Guatemalan military. López faced the judges confidently, "I don't think anyone can doubt the declarations we heard."

López further analyzed military documents incorporated as trial evidence. Citing Plan Victoria 82, Plan Sofía, the National Development Plan and Quilo Ayuso's expert testimony he concluded the military defined the Ixil people as an internal enemy, accused of supporting the guerrilla and thus considered subversives. The Guatemalan National Development Plan describes the military's strategic planning with the objective to destroy the Maya Ixil. Respectively, the planning and operations are elaborated as elimination and extermination, and annihilation and control. López focused on the evidence as it reveals the purpose and intention to commit the crime of genocide.

The public prosecutor concluded his closing arguments requesting Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez be found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and be given the maximum sentence for these crimes: 75 years.

Prosecution closing arguments continued on day 26. Prosecution lawyer Edgar Pérez opened the morning reflecting on the importance of the genocide trial, "This process is historic."

Pérez elaborated on the right to access justice and referred to Guatemala's "dark history," a history of criminalization and persecution of human rights defenders,

This [trial] shouldn’t be looked at as a threat to the state or a restart of the violence of the war. In those times, speaking in the manner that I am today would have been equal to be calling a communist, a guerrilla. No more. It is the obligation of the state to invest in an established process. ...These times cannot happen again in Guatemala. It’s time to respect…the dignity of all Guatemalans.

This history is relevant in understanding the polarized context in which the crimes of the accused took place. Pérez explained, "Genocide has a process of gestation. The seed of discrimination and racism is important to understand." Pérez reminded the courtroom of racist acts which took place during the very trial. He maintained, "The level of racism in this country is deep."

Edgar Pérez recalled the nearly 100 eyewitnesses who came to the genocide trial to share their stories of witnessing violence, abuses, and murders. Pérez extensively quoted eyewitness testimonies and gave special attention to Tiburcio Utuy's testimony from day 7, "We should remember everything Tiburcio said."

Finally, lawyer Pérez referred to Ríos Montt's absolute power in government using the exemplary quote taken from video footage of a 1982 interview with Ríos Montt himself saying, "'Because if I can't control the military, then what am I doing here.'" Pérez concluded, "He couldn't have been more clear."

Lawyer Pérez echoed Public Prosecutor López's request for a strong sentence. Amongst his final words in the genocide trial, Pérez stated, "Justice without strength is tyranny."

Francisco Vivar rounded out the prosecution team's closing arguments. Vivar emphasized the eyewitness and expert testimonies on sexual violence. He respectfully chose to emit names when quoting women survivors' testimonies of sexual violence, horrific accounts the courtroom heard on day 8.
Lawyer Vivar also drew conclusions from the military plans used as evidence to prove the chain of command and intentionality to destroy the Maya Ixil people. He closed asking for a firm sentence of the accused and chose to invoke the power of eyewitness testimony one last time, quoting Pedro Pacheco, "I have kids but they ask why don't I have grandparents? I tell them what happened. It's not written but its in my heart. I tell them so that it isn't repeated."

Following Vivar's closing arguments, the genocide trial took an unexpected turn. Defense lawyer Francisco García Gudiel announced that his client, Efraín Ríos Montt, wished to invoke his constitutional right to make a statement. Prosecution objected and Judge Barrios denied the request. Defense followed suit with an objection. After deliberations, Judge Barrios announced she would allow Ríos Montt to make his statement although she noted the conclusions phase is not the appropriate procedural moment to do so.
Former Dictator Ríos Montt spent nearly an hour recalling his short 13 months in power, which he characterized as trying to fix a broken state, to renovate Guatemala and unite ethnic diversity, "to create a state together." His statement was punctuated by a shaking fist and bursts of shouting, recalling a younger general we know from archival video footage used as evidence in the trial.

After Ríos Montt denied nearly every argument against him, Barrios intended to moved swiftly into defense closing arguments. Her request was met with resistance by defense lawyer Francisco García Gudiel, who insisted on a lunch break and said he had not had any breakfast. He proclaimed his "human right to food" what being violated and said his gastritis was being provoked. The outburst was met by laughter in the courtroom, which Judge Barrios quickly reprimanded. This is not the first medical ailment García Gudiel has brought to the courtroom; he claimed to be severely ill on day 24, forcing the trial to be suspended for the day. 

The defense team also presented a scheduling conflict, a 2PM hearing in Judge Carol Patricia Flores' courtroom in response to a Constitutional Court ruling. Barrios insisted that Flores' hearing cannot suspend the trial. Word later spread that Judge Flores's hearing was rescheduled for Friday morning at 8:15am.

"Against his will," Lawyer García Gudiel withstood his gastritis and delivered his closing arguments. His conclusions dismissed the integrity of eyewitness and expert testimony, stating the testimonial evidence "includes award-winning performances but not proof." Further, García Gudiel managed to include unnecessary racist and snide remarks. He referred to the United Nation's Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as "chinito", insulted the prosecution lawyers ("Didn't these poor people learn anything in university"), disparaged the work of "NGO-ers" and attacked the presence of foreign observers of the trial.

José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez' lawyer, César Calderón, delivered his closing arguments after the genocide trial broke for a late lunch. Calderón, like García Gudiel, rejected the majority of evidence presented in the trial for being subjective and not scientific. Both Calderón and García Gudiel concluded their clients are not guilty of their accused crimes. Calderón claimed, "[The trial] is a poem, a poem in poor taste, an invention, using the law and twisting that my client rots in a hospital."

Benjamin Jerónimo, plaintiff on the genocide trial, was given an opportunity to address the court and make a request to the judge on behalf of the survivors and as President of the Association of Justice and Reconciliation. We are honored to provide the complete unofficial transcript of his statement here.

Benjamin concluded his statement to booming applause from the gallery and chants of "Justice!" ("Justicia!"). Francisco Soto, Director of the Center for Human Rights Legal Action, also had an opportunity to address the court and ask the tribunal for justice. "We have asked for justice for 13 yrs, we have accompanied the survivors. 1000s of obstacles have been presented. We have tried for many years for justice to be done." His brief statement also stressed the trial's overwhelming significance, "This is an important moment of historic memory for our country. If we forget we are condemned to repeat."

Ríos Montt was requested to take the stand once more for his final statement. This time, he said very few words asking only for justice and respect from the court.

Judge Barrios concluded day 26 announcing that José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez would be given the opportunity to give his final statement the following morning. Judge Barrios announced day 27 would be scheduled earlier than usual, at 8AM instead of the regular 8:30AM start time, to accommodate Judge Flores' hearing also scheduled for the morning.

Day 27 will be the last hearing in the trial. A trial verdict is imminent.

NISGUA has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, and their lawyers, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action since 2000. We will continue to bear witness to the truth and bravery of these survivors throughout this historic trial. To bear witness with us, stay tuned to our ongoing live Twitter coverage @NISGUA_Guate, like our Facebook page and sign up for email updates

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