On Friday, Human rights organizations across Latin America will take to the streets to protest the May 20 decision by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court to overturn the genocide conviction of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. The Guatemalan general was sentenced to 80 years in prison on May 10 for ordering the deaths of at least 1,771 members of the Ixil Maya ethnic group during his 1982–1983 rule.
Protesters in Argentina, Mexico, Honduras, Peru, and Nicaragua will march to the Guatemalan embassy in each country in solidarity with the victims of the violence. Human rights activists in Guatemala City will also march from Parliament to the Supreme Court of Justice, ending in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court. Organizers in Guatemala expect some 10,000 participants.
The idea for the marches arose on Wednesday after 70 human rights and victims’ organizations throughout the hemisphere—including the Fundación Rigoberta Menchú (Rigoberta Menchú foundation), the Asociación de Familiares de Detenidos y Desaparecidos (Association of the Families of the Disappeared and Detained) and the Comisión Nacional de Viudas (National Commission of Widows)—signed a statement calling the decision to annul Ríos Montt’s conviction “illegal” and demanding that the court reestablish the conviction.
Participants in today’s demonstrations see Ríos Montt’s conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity as a triumph for international human rights. Ríos Montt was the first dictator to be convicted of genocide in Latin America. After the defense lodged several appeals with the court over alleged irregularities in the case, the constitutional court annulled the conviction and returned the trial to where it was on April 19.