4. Guatemala ex-dictator to stand trial on genocide
Guatemala ex-dictator to stand trial on genocide
By SONIA PEREZ-DIAZ
— Jan. 28 9:51 PM EST
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — A former U.S.-backed dictator who presided over one of the bloodiest periods of Guatemala's civil war will stand trial on charges he ordered the murder, torture and displacement of thousands of Mayan Indians, a judge ruled Monday.
Human rights advocates have said that the prosecution of Jose Efrain Rios Montt would be an important symbolic victory for the victims of one of the most horrific of the conflicts that devastated Central America during the last decades of the Cold War.
He is the first former president to be charged with genocide by a Latin American court.
"It's the beginning of a new phase of this struggle," said Paul Seils, vice president of the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice, which has worked extensively on war-crimes cases in Guatemala. He said the decision was "a good step forward" but he expected the prosecution of Rios Mont to encounter stiff resistance from forces in Guatemala opposed to the punishment of government-allied forces for their actions during the civil war.
Guatemala's leaders have been criticized for years for their inability or unwillingness to prosecute government forces and allied paramilitaries accused of marching into Mayan villages, carrying out rapes and torture, and slaughtering women, children and unarmed men in a "scorched earth" campaign aimed at eliminating the support for a left-wing guerrilla movement.