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Guatemalan ex-dictator Ríos Montt to undergo new pyschiatric tests to determine whether he's fit to stand trial for genocide

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — A Guatemalan court on Thursday ordered former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt be admitted to a public hospital to undergo new psychiatric tests to determine whether he is intellectually fit to face trial for genocide.

“The accused José Efraín Ríos Montt’s admission to the National Mental Health Hospital Federico Mora is ordered for Saturday, July 25 of this year, at 9:00 local time,” said Judge María Eugenia Castellanos, who presides the court.

The former dictator must remain hospitalized until August 3 “in order to determine with medical evaluation his medical and physical condition,” the court ruled.

The judges had scheduled Thursday as the start of the second trial against Ríos Montt for genocide, but oral arguments were delayed because of the prosecutor’s request to send him to the hospital for testing.

The court summoned the parties for August 4 to “learn the results of the test.”

The defense tried to change the decision by requesting the defendant’s admission to a private hospital, but the request was turned down by the judges.

“The ruling goes against my client’s health,” because being transferred to a hospital could cause him irreversible damage, Ríos Montt’s attorney Jaime Hernández told AFP.

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José Rodríguez, former intelligence chief during Ríos Montt’s de facto government, will be tried at the same time. Rodríguez arrived in court in a wheelchair after undergoing surgery on his left knee.

Ríos Montt, 89, is again facing justice after Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, the country’s highest legal body, annulled an 80-year prison sentence ordered on May 10, 2013. The high court alleged procedural errors and ordered a new trial.

A new hearing was set for January 5, but the military’s defense requested that Judge Jeannette Valdez, a member of the court, be removed from the case for having issued an opinion about genocide in an academic thesis in 2004.

Ríos Montt and Rodríguez, who was absolved during the first trial, are accused of killing 1,771 Ixil Maya indigenous people in the country’s north during the dictatorship which ruled the country between 1982 and 1983.

Ríos Montt’s régime is considered the bloodiest of Guatemala’s armed conflict, which left more than 200,000 people killed and disappeared between 1960 and 1996, according to a UN report.

Ríos Montt’s mental health

The request by the prosecutor’s office to transfer Ríos Montt to a mental hospital for new medical tests was in reaction to a July 7 forensic report which declared him unfit to face trial.

Hilda Pineda, the prosecutor in the case, told AFP she believes the evaluation was inadequate because the former ruler was sedated with medicine he had taken.

Because of that, judges also ordered urine tests to detect three medications that could affect the octogenarian former military leader’s mental state.

The prosecutor said that in order to guarantee a new, impartial evaluation of Ríos Montt’s mental condition, a new team must be set up with several specialists, among them psychiatrists and psychologists.

Héctor Reyes, attorney for the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights, which is an adjunct prosecutor in the case, said it was necessary to carry out other mental test before deciding to suspend the trial.

Luis Rosales, one of Ríos Montt’s defense attorneys, criticized the request and said the new tests must be performed at the former ruler’s home, not at the hospital.

“The request is legally and logically unfounded. What matters here is compliance with the law, and the (official forensic) report must prevail,” he said.

According to Rosales, the law that created Guatemala’s National Forensic Science Institute, which issued the initial report, established that the institution’s duty is to “settle such doubts and produce scientific medical reports that are above any other document.”

In theory, the new report ordered by the court will be decisive in determining whether the former dictator can or cannot face the new trial for genocide, the first against a Guatemalan high official for this crime.

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