Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt has been found guilty of genocide and war crimes in a landmark ruling stemming from massacres of indigenous people in his country’s long civil war.
Rios Montt thus became the first Latin American convicted of trying to exterminate an entire group of people, in a brief but particularly gruesome stretch of a war that started in 1960, dragged on for 36 years and left around 200,000 people dead or missing.
The 86-year-old was sentenced to 80 years in prison, although he can appeal. He got 50 years for genocide and 30 years for war crimes.
“The defendant is responsible for masterminding the crime of genocide,” Judge Jazmin Barrios said on Saturday. “The corresponding punishment must be imposed.” She said he was also guilty of war crimes.
Other Latin American countries, such as Chile, Brazil and Argentina, were also ruled by cruel military despots in the 1970s and 80s and some leaders and officers have been convicted for abuses. But this was the first time an outright genocide conviction was handed down in the region.
Activists say the verdict was also historic because it marked the first time anywhere in the world that a court has found one of its country’s citizens guilty of genocide -- a systematic attempt to eliminate an entire group of people for racial, religious, political or other reasons.