The order for the arrest and prosecution of former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt in Guatemala is a good sign that justice may be delayed but it eventually will prevail.
That is unfortunately not always the case, but Guatemalans should be proud of the way this case is being handled. Ríos Montt lost his parliamentary immunity late last week when the new legislature came into office. He was immediately called into a hearing by a judge, who found that there is proof to prosecute the former president for genocide and crimes against humanity.
Ríos Montt rose to power in a coup d’état in 1982 and governed until 1983. During this time, there were numerous murders within the context of the Central American nation’s 36-year civil war. Along with other military personnel, he is being personally charged in more than 100 cases where over 1,770 people were killed, almost 1,400 were raped and at least 29,000 were displaced.
In addition to Ríos Montt, generals Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez and Héctor Mario López Fuentes have been charged and are under arrest in a military hospital. Ríos Montt’s former defense minister, former general Óscar Humberto Mejías Víctores, did not go to trial because he lacks mental capacity.
The road to reconciliation is long, because it is difficult and painful for a society to confront the cruel past of a fratricidal war. Nevertheless, as we have said before, there is no true reconciliation without justice.
Guatemala is following this path. The accused are now old and the crimes were committed 30 years ago, but justice must be done, especially for large-scale crimes.
The message against impunity is clear for anyone who thinks that acting in the name of the presidency, security and homeland will protect them from their actions.