Louis Montt’s conviction is a light at the end of the “justice” tunnel


After decades of suffering and hoping for vindication, the people of Guatemala were relieved on 10th of May 2013 when the Supreme Court convicted the former dictator Louis Raois Montt (1982-1983) for orchestrating crimes of genocide against ethnic Maya Ixil. The ruling was the state’s official acknowledgement that genocide occurred in the 36 year civil war that ended with peace accords in 1996. It was also the first time such a sentence for genocide was ever handed down against a former Latin American leader in his own country. The road to Justice for the Guatemalans was not a smooth one; it was dogged by legal technicalities that led to suspension of the trial for 12 days amid appeals which at times appeared to be headed for annulment. However, as belligerent as it was, the trial bore its desired fruits for the victims/survivors of mass violations.

This trial is a testament of how long international justice may take. Indeed we have witnessed the challenges faced by victims seeking redress for international crimes. Often it takes decades before they can obtain a sense of justice, the trial is then riddled with many legal technicalities which often delay the trial or result to either annulments or stay of proceedings.

This is very similar to our situation in northern Uganda. No one has been put on trial for atrocities committed to civilians in the war between the LRA and the government. The cases before the ICC are pending waiting for the capture of Joseph Kony, Dominic Ongwen and Okot Odhiambo. Since the establishment of the International Crimes Division of the High Court of Uganda no trial has commenced since the Kwoyelo case is suspended due to constitutionally raised issues. In a nutshell, the victims of this war feel like mainstream justice is useless.

However, the conviction of Rios Montt for crimes he committed decades ago, gives rise to hope that no matter how many years have passed, it is still possible to get justice. As human rights activists in Guatemala summed it as a historic moment for victims/survivors of a three decade brutal civil war, now they can feel a sense of Justice, the relief of having had a chance to be heard. This conviction is testimony that no matter the time it takes, justice is still a possibility and victims vigour is required at all times.