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Ríos Montt is Dead: The Fight for Justice Lives On

Efraín Ríos Montt, the Guatemalan dictator responsible for inflicting mass killings, rapes and genocide against Indigenous Peoples in the 1980s, has died. Under his regime, up to 70,000 people were killed, mostly in Mayan communities. MADRE stands with our partners and with all Indigenous women and families still seeking justice and healing more than 30 years later. 

And we remain committed to speaking out about the US role in Ríos Montt’s campaign of terror. As he was waging a bloody, genocidal campaign, he received accolades from Ronald Reagan, who called him “a man of great personal integrity and commitment.” This moral cover, along with millions of dollars in economic and military aid, spurred some of Ríos Montt’s most brutal tactics. The day after Reagan’s glowing remarks, Guatemalan soldiers descended on the village of Dos Erres and began a 3-day massacre that left over 162 people dead. 

Rights activists in Guatemala worked for decades to seek justice for his crimes, documenting evidence and capturing testimonies. In 2012, they made history with the start of a landmark trial against Ríos Montt to hold him accountable for genocide and crimes against humanity. For months, survivors of his brutality courageously stepped forward, to bear witness and to demand justice. 

When he was found guilty in 2013 and sentenced to 80 years in prison, he became the first former head of state to be convicted of genocide by his own country’s courts. But days later, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court overturned his conviction on a technicality, forcing a retrial still in progress at the time of his death.

Just weeks ago, MADRE and our partners at the Indigenous women’s organization MUIXIL, mobilized 100 women from different communities in Guatemala. They traveled together to the ongoing Ríos Montt trial to offer moral support to the survivors bravely recounting their testimonies. Our partners are deeply tied to these women and communities, and MADRE remains committed to support their vital work to heal and demand justice.

Claudia Paz y Paz, the trailblazing former Guatemalan Attorney General who helped bring the charges against Ríos Montt, said, “He died facing justice. Thank you to the survivors for their dignity and bravery. May it never happen again.” 

Ríos Montt is dead, but the fight for justice lives on. Thanks to the brave women and men who made this historic prosecution possible, powerful perpetrators know that they are not untouchable. And through it all, Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala and their allies worldwide have woven deeper bonds of commitment to each other and to justice.

Learn more about MADRE’s work in Guatemala.