GUATEMALA CITY – A Guatemalan judge on Monday ordered the trial of ex-dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide committed against the country’s indigenous population during his 1982-83 regime.
The landmark decision marks the first time that genocide proceedings have been brought in the country over the 36-year civil war that ended in 1996, leaving an estimated 200,000 people dead, according to the United Nations.
Judge Miguel Galvez issued the order to open the trial against Ríos Montt for the crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity.
The 86-year-old former dictator, who has been under house arrest for a year, is accused of orchestrating the massacre of more than 1,750 indigenous Ixil Maya people in Quiché department during his time in power.
The former general is known for his “scorched earth” campaign against people the government claimed were leftist rebels but in fact were often members of indigenous Maya communities who were not involved in the conflict.
Ríos Montt, dressed in a gray suit, arrived on time for the hearing. Upon his entry into the courtroom, a small group of retired military men saluted him.
Outside the courthouse in the center of Guatemala City, a group of relatives of victims set up a makeshift altar, where they placed flowers and other offerings, and burned incense.
Indigenous Maya communities make up a majority of the population in rural Guatemala.