Dictator’s genocide conviction undone

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner
May 21, 2013

Court rethinks Guatemalan dictator’s genocide conviction, sectarian violence roils Iraq, and body of tortured Afghan man turns up near U.S. base. Today is Tuesday, May 21, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt gestures as he speaks at his genocide trial at the Supreme Court of Justice in Guatemala City, May 9, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez

Justice undelivered. Guatemala’s top court invalidated a recent genocide conviction against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, overturning a ruling that was hailed as a triumph of justice:

Rios Montt, 86, was found guilty on May 10 of overseeing the killings by the armed forces of at least 1,771 members of the Maya Ixil population during his 1982-83 rule. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison. However, in a ruling on Monday, the country’s Constitutional Court ordered that all the proceedings be voided going back to April 19, when one of the presiding judges suspended the trial because of a dispute with another judge over who should hear it.

The conviction marked the first time a former head of state was successfully charged with genocide in his own country. Montt seized power in a coup in 1982 and served as Guatemala’s leader for 17 months, allegedly overseeing deliberate killings by government forces of more than 1,700 Maya Ixil during the bloodiest period in a 36-year civil war that claimed up to 250,000 lives. Amnesty International called overturning the ruling a “devastating blow for the victims of the serious human rights violations.” No date has yet been set for the start of the retrial.

Iraq’s terrible week.  Bomb blasts killed at least 12 people in Iraq today, one day after more than 70 people were killed in attacks targeting Sunnis. The violence between majority Shi’ites and minority Sunnis raises fears of Iraq slipping into sectarian war:

Iraq’s Sunnis who resent their treatment by Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government have staged mass protests since December. Sunni militants, some of them linked to al Qaeda, have exploited the unrest, urging Sunnis to take up arms. More than 700 people died violently in April, according to the United Nations, the highest monthly figure in almost five years.

Sunni-Shi’ite violence in Iraq has claimed the lives of over 200 people in the past week.

Tortured Afghan man’s body found near U.S. base. The New York Times reports that the corpse of a missing man turned up near an American Special Forces base on Tuesday:

Afghan investigators said that after his disappearance, the man, Sayid Mohammad, was seen in a video undergoing torture at the hands of an Afghan-American named Zakaria Kandahari, who was the chief translator for an American Army Special Forces A Team stationed at the base in the Nerkh district of Wardak Province. Mr. Mohammad’s body was found about 200 yards outside the perimeter of the Nerkh base, which is now occupied by Afghan special forces.

American forces left the strategic base following protests by Afghan president Hamid Karzai and other officials. Read the full story at the New York Times.

Nota Bene: Ethereal floral artwork and blooming displays draw celebrities and royalty to London’s annual Chelsea Flower Show.

Standouts:

Euro-fury – Reuters columnist John Lloyd comments on the future of the European Union. (Reuters)

Deadly austerity - Greek suicides are up 27 percent, calling attention to the fatal effects of a failing economy. (Quartz)

Potato pest - Scientists solve Ireland’s potato famine mystery. (BBC)

Romance revenue - Italy cashes in on Juliet’s balcony. (The Los Angeles Times)

Inaugural exorcism - Pope Francis apparently performed his first exorcism this weekend. (The Telegraph)

From the File:

  • Israel fires back at Syria after gunshots at its troops
  • UK’s Cameron committed to ruling in coalition until 2015: spokesman
  • Russia says it has killed a senior Islamist insurgent
  • Rubber bullets fired at South African mine strikers, several hurt
  • Coordinated Taliban attacks in Afghan south kill six policemen

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