The Question of Speed at the Genocide Trial
|Down from the dias to watch a video presented by the defense, tribunal magistrates sit flanked by bodyguards.|
After thirty years in which survivors waited to tell their stories in court, the genocide trial of former Guatemala head of state Gen. Efrain Rios Montt is raising the question of speed. Tribunal President Jazmín Barrios (above, center) ordered twelve witnesses a day heard in the early days of the process, which began Mar. 19. In the Srebrenica and Rwanda genocide trials, a single witness sometimes took the stand for more than a day. In Guatemala, have witnesses delivered testimony in a manner more redolent of a truth commission than a trial? The world has seen so few truth commissions or genocide trials -- this is the first anywhere of a head of state charged in the national courts where the alleged crime happened -- that comparisons can be shaky.
|Gen. Rios Montt takes a moment to greet co-defendant and former intelligence chief, Gen. Mauricio Rodriguez, seated.|
The defense, which has introduced numerous motions to delay the trial or suspend it completely, says Barrios' pace violates the rights of the accused. Atty. Francisco Garcia Gudiel tried so vehemently on day one to have Barrios taken off the case he was tossed out of court and reinstated only nineteen sessions later, and now says he has not had time to review what happened when he was gone. (Competent counsel acted meanwhile.) Defense attorneys picked up their briefcases and walked out on April 18 in a show of "peaceful resistance" to the way things were going, and a public defender appointed by the court has asked for more time to review files. In comments to reporters about what the trial should not be, Garcia Gurdiel used the term "horse race." Zury Rios, a former Congress member, has become the voice of her father, who has not made public statements. "Why the hurry?" she asked in an interview with the El Salvadoran El Faro. Barrios begins sessions promptly at 8:30 a.m. five days a week, never allowing more than an hour for lunch, sometimes running past five p.m. "Why the interest in accelerating this trial?," said Rios. Other cases have met only Monday through Thursday, "but never past three-thirty in the afternoon."
|Defense table with trial files, too much material to review quickly complain lawyers.|
El Periodico columnist Jorge Jacobs, who calls those prosecuting the general "groups descended from the ex-guerrilla," says the trial is hurtling toward a pre-determined guilty verdict, suspiciously fast "in a country where the rhythm of justice has always seemed a race with speed between that of turtles and snails."
Judge Barrios has often guided witnesses to answer only questions put to them, intervening when they stray off point by her measures. She has emphasized the legal requirement of the straightforward, undelayed process. An observer who follows the case closely said Barrios wants to move apace also because "she has a sword over her head," petitions in various courts that could, if and when decided, delay or derail the trial completely. On April 19 a judge in another court "nullified" the trial, and ten days passed before Barrios regained control.
The trial has only to hear six more witnesses for the defense and listen to closing arguments, which Barrios has limited to four hours on each side. Yesterday lawyers for the generals said they could not produce witnesses immediately.Barrios reprimanded the defense for delaying tactics, reading to them parts of the judicial code of ethics from the bench. While being scolded, Garcia Gudiel (seated right) tapped his fingers, finally bending his head to fiddle with a pen.
Barrios granted a recess until Tues., May 7.
|Street graffiti, a block away from court building where genocide trial is being held|
"Here the dead continue to live"