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(New York) – The trial of former de facto head of Guatemala, Efraín Ríos Montt, on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, is a landmark achievement in the fight for justice in Guatemala.

Ríos Montt was indicted in January 2012 for genocide and crimes against humanity relating to 15 massacres that resulted in the deaths of 1,771 indigenous Ixil peopleduring his rule from 1982 to 1983. He will be tried in Guatemala City together with his former chief of military intelligence, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, beginning on March 19, 2013.

“The prosecution of a general for these horrific crimes after 30 years is a testament to the courage and tenacity of Guatemala’s victims and human rights groups,” said Reed Brody, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch, who will monitor the start of the trial. “The trial of a former dictator is a remarkable development in a country where impunity for past atrocities has long been the norm.”

In May 2012, Ríos Montt was also charged with murder and crimes against humanity in a separate case for his alleged role in a 1982 massacre in the town of Dos Erres, in the Petén region, in which soldiers killed more than 250 people, including children.

A United Nations-sponsored Commission on Historical Clarification estimated that as many as 200,000 people were killed during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict (1960-1996) and attributed 93 percent of the human rights abuses it documented to state security forces. It concluded that the military had carried out “acts of genocide.” In 1999, US President Bill Clinton apologized for US support for repressive security forces in Guatemala during the conflict.

Although not involved in this prosecution, Brodyhas specialized in building human rights cases, working with the victims of Augusto Pinochet and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, and as lead counsel for the victims in the case of the exiled former dictator of Chad, Hissène Habré, who faces trial in Senegal. Brody was a member of the UN Preliminary Mission which established a UN peacekeeping mission in Guatemala and he was part of the negotiations which led to the creation of the United Nations International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala.

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