San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Guatemala's Maya outraged at genocide ruling annulment

GUATEMALA CITY – Native Mayas who survived massacres during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war voiced outrage Wednesday at the overturning of a genocide conviction of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt.

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court on Monday struck down the 80-year sentence given to Ríos Montt along with his conviction for genocide and war crimes.

The annulment “mocks the Ixil people,” said Nebaj Mayor Ana Laynez.

Nebaj, along with the municipalities of Chajul and Cotzal, form the Ixil Maya region in the northern department of Quiché.

Ríos Montt went on trial in March on charges of ordering the massacre of indigenous Ixil Maya people in the 1980s as part of a scorched-earth policy during his dictatorship.

He was convicted on May 10 of genocide and war crimes and was sentenced to 80 years prison.

However, the Constitutional Court struck down the conviction and the sentence on grounds the 86-year-old former dictator was denied due process.

The Monday ruling is an “outrage” and an example of racism towards the indigenous people of Guatemala, Laynez said at a press conference.

From the point of view of the indigenous people, “justice in Guatemala has been kidnapped by those who have economic, political and military power,” said Manuel Vail, a Maya priest.

“They can overturn the sentence,” said Vail, “but they cannot overturn the stain they carry in their conscience, or Guatemala’s shame in the eyes of the world,” he said.

Several of the Maya victims and family members who testified in Ríos Montt’s trial are “disappointed” by the “lack of seriousness” in the legal process, added Edwin Canil, a leading rights activist.

With more than 14 million people, Guatemala’s population is about 40 percent indigenous, overwhelmingly from ethnic Maya groups, who bore the brunt of the devastation and violence during the war, in which 250,000 people were killed and disappeared, many of them tortured and raped before they were murdered.

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