GUATEMALA CITY – A Guatemalan court convicted former dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity on Friday, sentencing him to 80 years in prison, the first such sentence ever handed down against a former Latin American leader.
It was the state’s first official acknowledgment that genocide occurred during the bloody, 36-year civil war.
“He knew about everything that was going on and he did not stop it, despite having the power to stop it from being carried out,” Presiding Judge Yassmin Barrios said. “Rios Montt is guilty of genocide.”
The 86-year-old former general laughed, talked to his lawyers and listened to the procedures through headphones. When the guilty verdict was announced, the crowded courtroom erupted in cheers. Some women who lost relatives in the massacres wept.
“Judge, Judge! Restore order!” Rios Montt shouted as cameramen and photographers swarmed him after the verdict was announced.
A three-judge tribunal issued the verdict after the nearly two-month trial in which dozens of victims testified about mass rapes and the killings of women and children and other atrocities.
Survivors and relatives of victims have sought for 30 years to bring punishment for Rios Montt. For international observers and Guatemalans on both sides of the war, the trial could be a turning point in a nation still wrestling with the trauma of a conflict that killed some 200,000 people.
Prosecutors said Rios Montt must have had knowledge of the massacres of Mayan Indians when he ruled Guatemala from March 1982 to August 1983 at the height of the country’s 36-year civil war.
Rios Montt had said he never knew of or ordered the massacres while in power.