MADRID – Spain’s National Court on July 7 issued an arrest warrant for Guatemala’s ex-President Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt and seven other former military and police leaders implicated in crimes of genocide.
Judge Santiago Pedraz issued the warrant following a report to the National Court indicating that Guatemalan authorities were not cooperating with the investigation.
“There was a clear, constant and willful lack of cooperation with the Spanish judiciary in the investigation of the incidents reported,” reported a group of Spanish magistrates, who recently returned from a frustrated fact-finding mission to Guatemala, during which they were prevented from taking statements from witnesses.
The accused are rejecting the jurisdiction of the Spanish tribunal.
Ríos Montt’s lawyer said in Guatemala that his client, who ruled as a dictator for 17 months between 1982-83, has been granted amnesty for crimes committed during the war in Guatemala.
Attorney Francisco Palomo said that the arrest warrant issued by Pedraz “is only valid in Spain, but not in Guatemala because Gen. Ríos Montt has been granted amnesty since 1990.”
The 80-year-old Ríos Montt, Palomo said: “is calm and doesn’t care what they do in other countries. He just has to be careful to not travel to Spain.”
During the years in which the accused were in power in Guatemala, an estimated 250,000 members of Maya indigenous groups were killed.
Several dozen Spanish citizens were also killed during that time, including 35 people killed in an attack by Guatemalan security forces on the Spanish Embassy in 1980, and five Spanish priests slain in different parts of the country.
The genocide case before the Spanish court has been pressed for six years by 1992 Nobel Peace laureate Rigoberta Menchú, who has carried the banner to seek justice against the high-ranking officers whose military regime came to power through a coup.
Menchú said at a June 27 press conference that the former army officers named in the case should defend themselves in court and “cease their threats against us.”
Menchú was responding to a warning from the Military Veterans Association of Guatemala (Avemigua) that the continuation of the Spanish court’s trial “could bring about a tragedy.”
“These are threats and intimidations that make us fear for the safety of the witnesses and plaintiffs,” Menchú said, adding, “If they have a truth to defend, let them do it before the courts, let them go and give their version of what happened, because threats are not a defense.”
Moreover, she said, “Crimes of genocide, torture, massacre, forced disappearances – for which the ex-officers are being tried – are not local crimes but international crimes. They are offenses against humanity that can be judged in any part of the world, and Spain is one of the countries that can impart universal justice.”