GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - A Guatemalan court ordered the government on Monday to apologize for atrocities committed against indigenous people in the country’s civil war after former dictator Efrain Rios Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Judges sentenced Rios Montt to 80 years in prison on Friday after finding him responsible for deliberate killings by the armed forces of at least 1,771 members of the Maya Ixil population during his 1982-83 rule.
“Victims deserve fair restitution,” Judge Yasmin Barrios told a compensation hearing on Monday.
Without setting a deadline for when it should be done, Barrios said the heads of government, Congress and the judiciary, as well as the interior minister and minister of defense “must ask for forgiveness from the Maya Ixil population.”
Barrios did not order financial compensation, but said victims of the genocide should have access to a fund set up after the war to help survivors of the conflict.
President Otto Perez, the first military man to run the country since the end of the 1960-1996 war, maintained his view after the verdict that there had been no genocide in Guatemala. But he said he is willing to apologize for wartime atrocities.
“I have been willing to do it for many years,” Perez told reporters on Monday.
Perez commanded troops in some of the bloodiest regions of the war under Rios Montt and said that the genocide verdict is not yet “firm” since the appeals process has not been exhausted.
During the trial, one prosecution witness implicated Perez in atrocities, saying that troops under his command burned down homes and killed unarmed civilians during the conflict that killed up to 250,000 people.
Perez rejected the accusations and has never been charged with war crimes. Declassified U.S. documents from the civil war years suggest Perez was one of the army’s most progressive officers and helped to remove Rios Montt from power.
Rios Montt’s government launched a fierce offensive in which soldiers raped, tortured and killed Ixil people, and burned their homes. Thousands of other Maya were forced into exile or had to join paramilitary forces fighting leftist rebels.
After spending two nights in prison, the 86-year-old Rios Montt was transferred to a hospital on Sunday for treatment for respiratory and prostate problems, his lawyer said.
Rios Montt came to power in a bloodless coup on March 23, 1982. He ruled for 17 months during one of the most brutal phases of the conflict until he was toppled in August 1983.
Barrios and two other judges ordered the executive branch to present a bill to Congress that would declare March 23 a national day against genocide and build a museum and monuments to commemorate victims of the war.
They also ordered the government to establish permanent schools on human rights within the police academy and military.
Additional reporting by Sofia Menchu; Editing by Dave Graham and Paul Simao