GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - A Guatemalan judge on Thursday restarted the genocide trial of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt following a two-week suspension due to a fight over who should oversee the case.
Judge Yasmin Barrios resumed the trial from the point at which it abruptly stopped on April 19, accepting video evidence from the defense set to have been presented last month.
“We are continuing with the trial of Jose Efrain Rios Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity,” she told the court.
The trial, which opened in March, was suspended after another judge sought to wind back proceedings to November 2011, voiding all developments since then.
That ruling was issued just days before closing arguments had been expected to begin.
On Tuesday Barrios reinstated Rios Montt’s lawyer, who had been thrown out on the trial’s first day for having a conflict of interest with one of the three judges hearing the case.
She also ordered the defense to bring its remaining witnesses and evidence, and appointed a public defender to represent Rios Montt’s intelligence director, who is also being tried.
Defense attorneys argue that the decision to move back proceedings is binding. Prosecutors insist it is illegal and are challenging the ruling in the Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest court. It has not yet given its verdict.
But Barrios said the trial must go on because all Constitutional Court orders relating to disputed elements about the case had been complied with, including reinstating Rios Montt’s lawyer and accepting defense evidence that was initially rejected.
Rios Montt, 86, is charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for a counterinsurgency plan conceived under his 1982-1983 rule that killed 1,771 members of the Ixil indigenous group in one of the bloodiest phases of Guatemala’s civil war.
More than 100 witnesses have told tales of rape, torture and arson during the trial.
Defense lawyers, who have filed criminal complaints against Barrios for breach of public duty, argue that Rios Montt had no control over battlefield operations and that genocide was never the idea behind his military campaign.
Editing by Dave Graham and Xavier Briand