Guatemala city: A Guatemalan court heard arguments on Tuesday over whether to prosecute Efrain Rios Montt for what would be the first trial for genocide against indigenous groups during his 1980s dictatorship.
The 86-year-old former general, who ruled with an iron fist from March 1982 to August 1983, appeared at a Supreme Court of Justice courtroom before Judge Miguel Angel Galvez.
Also accused are generals Jose Rodriguez, who appeared in a wheelchair, and Hector Lopez, who was absent from the courtroom.
Rios Montt, known for his “scorched earth” campaign against people the government claimed were leftist rebels now may have to answer charges that his regime was responsible for the massacre of tens of thousands of people.
The “rebels” were often in fact indigenous Maya communities with no known links to leftists.
Guatemala’s truth commission estimates that some 200,000 people were killed in the country’s 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. Some of the worst atrocities are said to have taken place during Rios Montt’s rule.
The UN-backed Historical Clarification Commission found that the government was guilty of a deliberate campaign of genocide against the mostly poor, indigenous massacre victims, many of whom were caught in the crossfire or targeted with presumed impunity as the government battled rebels.
Prosecutors say Rodriguez masterminded the policy that targeted Ixil Maya communities, in which entire villages were burned and their populations massacred.
Indigenous Maya communities make up a majority of the population in rural Guatemala.