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Guatemala's Former Dictator "Unfit" Candidate for President
Ríos Montt Reversal Sets Back Rights
(New York, July 15, 2003) The decision by Guatemala's highest court to authorize the presidential candidacy of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt is a disturbing setback for human rights in the region, Human Rights Watch said today.

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"Twenty years ago General Ríos Montt ran a military regime that killed thousands of people. Today he should be on trial, not running for president."

José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Director
Americas Division
Human Rights Watch


"General Ríos Montt is implicated in some of the most egregious human rights violations committed in Latin America in the twentieth century," said José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "He is clearly unfit to serve as president of Guatemala."

General Ríos Montt was put in power by a military coup in 1982 and served until 1983. During his term as president, the Guatemalan military carried out a "scorched earth" campaign of hundreds of massacres, tens of thousands of extrajudicial executions, and -according to a U.N.-sponsored truth commission - "acts of genocide."

Ríos Montt made two attempts to run for president in the 1990s but his candidacy was barred by a provision of the 1985 Constitution that prohibited people who had participated in military coups from becoming president. Guatemala's electoral court and the Supreme Court both reaffirmed that prohibition in recent weeks, ruling against his candidacy. But the Constitutional Court, the Guatemalan judiciary's highest authority, ruled yesterday that the constitutional prohibition did not apply.

The court's ruling directly contradicts its own holdings from previous years. However, this time around, three of the seven judges on the court have close ties to Ríos Montt and his party.

Ríos Montt is currently the President of Congress and the head of the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), the political party of the current president, Alfonso Portillo.

"Twenty years ago General Ríos Montt ran a military regime that killed thousands of people," said Vivanco. "Today he should be on trial, not running for president."