Guatemala: Ríos Montt is convicted —who's next?

On May 10 a three-judge panel of the High Risk Cases Court in Guatemala City convicted former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983) of ordering, supervising and permitting the killing of 1,771 people from the Ixil Mayan group—about 5.5% of the total Ixil population—in El Quiché department during his 17 months of de facto rule. The killings occurred during the most violent phase of a 36-year civil war in which some 200,000 people died, mostly civilians killed by the military, with covert assistance from the US. Ríos Montt was given a prison sentence of 80 years and was escorted from the court directly to the Matamoros prison. He said would appeal and called the proceedings an international farce. The court acquitted co-defendant José Rodríguez, Ríos Montt's former intelligence chief.

Guatemala: will the Ríos Montt trial continue?

The status of the genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) remained uncertain as of May 3, with observers disagreeing on the impact of four rulings by the Constitutional Court (CC) that day. The trial--in which Ríos Montt and former intelligence chief Gen. José Rodríguez face charges of causing the deaths of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Mayan civilians in the central department of Quiché during Ríos Montt's dictatorship—started on March 19 but was suddenly suspended on April 18 after an appeals court appeared to reinstate the presiding judge from an earlier phase of the case. The trial resumed on April 30, but on May 2 the three trial judges decided to recess until May 7 to allow the defense to prepare.

Genocide in Nigeria?

The military and independent investigators are at odds over what happened at the northern Nigerian village of Baga on April 21, when civilians were caught in the crossfire between army troops and Boko Haram fighters. Senator Maina Maaji, who represents Borno state in the National Assembly reports that he counted 228 graves and over 4,000 destroyed houses in Baga, his hometown, on a fact-finding mission. The senator, who spoke to journalists in nearby Maiduguri April 27, alleged that those killed were defenseless youths, children and women. Nigeria's Defense Headquarters says it sent its own fact-finding team to Baga, and determined only 37 were killed. It also denied eport that it had arrested 15 soldiers in connection with the attack on Baga. The Red Cross protested that Nigerian soldiers restricted access to Baga in the days after the massacre. (Premium Times, Abuja, April 29; Daily Trust, Abuja, April 28 via AllAfrica; PM Press, Abuja, April 28; PM Press, April 23)

Guatemala: victims challenge suspension of Ríos Montt trial

Both supporters and opponents of former Guatemalan dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) took to the streets of Guatemala City on April 20 in response to the abrupt decision two days earlier to suspend his trial for genocide allegedly committed against indigenous people during the country's 36-year civil war. Human rights activists marched to the Constitutionality Court (CC), where the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH) had filed a complaint on April 19 against the suspension. "We're asking for a court free of pressures, one which can say whether or not there was genocide and crimes against humanity," CALDH director Juan Fernando Soto explained. Meanwhile, friends and relatives of soldiers marched in the Lourdes neighborhood in Zona 16, putting decals on cars reading: "I love the Army of Guatemala" and "We Guatemalans don't commit genocide." (Prensa Libre, Guatemala City, April 21)

Guatemala: Ríos Montt trial implicates president

Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina was involved in some of the crimes against humanity for which former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) and his former intelligence, Gen. José Rodríguez, are now on trial in Guatemala City, according to testimony by a prosecution witness at the trial on April 4. The witness, Hugo Reyes, was an army engineer stationed near Nebaj, El Quiché department, in the Ixil Mayan region, during the early 1980s, at a time when the current president was an army major commanding troops in the area. Reyes said Pérez Molina, then known as "Commander Tito" and "Major Tito Arias," was among the officers in charge of soldiers who "coordinated the burning [of homes] and pulling people out so they could execute them."

Peru: Lucanamarca massacre remembered

Peru's President Ollanta Humala oversaw a ceremony April 3 at the village of Lucanamarca (Huancasancos province, Ayacucho region), delivering a "symbolic" package of reparations for the massacre there on that date in 1983. The reparations, delivered to five communities in the district-level municipality, ammounted to 100,000 soles (not quite $40,000). The ceremony centered around the reading of the names of the 69 victims of the massacre, including 11 women and 18 children. The youngest of the victims was less then six months old. (Andina, April 3) Sendero Luminoso guerillas occupied the village and "executed" the 69 residents after villagers had killed their local commander Olegario Curitomay, in retaliation for cattle thieving by the rebels. (La Republica, April 4; pro-Sendero account at RevLeft)

Brazil: Awá tribe's desperate call to evict loggers

An Amazonian indigenous group said to be the Earth's most threatened tribe has sent an urgent appeal to Brazil's government to evict invaders from their forest homeland. Despite a federal judge's ruling that ordered Brazilian authorities to remove all invaders on Awá land by the end of March, not a single person has yet been evicted. The Awá are becoming increasingly desperate as illegal loggers close in on them and settlers encroach on their territory. In a rare video appeal to Brazil's Minister of Justice, an Awá man said: "I am angry, very angry… The loggers come here and chop down the trees…  The Minister of Justice in Brasília can help us here, now. He must help us now!"

UN approves Congo 'intervention brigade'

The UN Security Council on March 28 unanimously approved the first-ever "offensive" UN peacekeeping brigade, to fight rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The force of more than 2,500 troops will operate under orders to "neutralize" and "disarm" rebel forces in the resource-rich east of the country. The intervention brigade is unprecedented in UN peacekeeping because of its offensive mandate. The resolution states that it will be established for one year "on an exceptional basis and without creating a precedent" to the principles of UN peacekeeping. The force, to be deployed in July, will include troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi. The UN currently has some 18,000 troops in the DRC, and has been widely accused of doing little to stop the violence in the eastern region. The latest rebellion flared a year ago, and has forced some 800,000 from their homes.

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