A Guatemalan court found former military dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who was the ruler of the Central American country during part of the 36-year civil war, guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide on Friday. The charges stem from what prosecutors told the court was the systematic displacement and massacre of the Ixil, an indigenous group of Maya.
The court sentenced the former general to 80 years behind bars. The court’s ruling was by a panel of three judges and came following a trial where dozens of survivors described the atrocities committed by security forces and the Guatemalan army. The government was attempting eradicate the Marxist guerrillas and their sympathizers during a period from 1982 to 1983, during which Rios Montt ruled as the de facto leader following a coup.
The conservative Guatemalans will react to the verdict negatively as many still see the former army general as their hero, who prevented the Communists rebels from overtaking the entire country.
However, different human rights organizations have wanted this verdict for many years. The civil war claimed over 200,000 lives between 1960 and 1996 and a report in 1999 of the country’s commission truth and reconciliation listed a number of abuses of human rights. The same commission found that the Guatemalan government or the paramilitary groups supporting it committed 93% of the violations of human rights.
Rios Montt was accused of being responsible for the deaths of over 1,700 Ixil, along with systematic tortures, rapes and the raising of villages.
Rios Montt said in his own testimony, he never proposed, signed, ordered or authorized that a religion, ethnicity or race be attacked.