Very late (we usually publish by Sunday), and entirely my fault:
1. Iran Through a European Lens
Monday, March 24 | 10am
Atlantic Council, 12th Floor (West Tower); 1030 15th Street, NW
The Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force invites you to a conversation with Marietje Schaake, member of the European Parliament and expert on Internet freedom, human rights, and Iran. Schaake recently visited Iran with a European Parliament delegation to address critical issues including the nuclear program and human rights concerns. Schaake will share insights from her visit and provide a European perspective on diplomacy with Iran.
The genocide conviction of general and coup leader Efraín Ríos Montt for his scorched earth campaign against the Ixil Mayans is remarkable in the Guatemalan context. More than 30 years after his cruel campaign of extermination, which murdered 5.5% of their population, a Guatemalan court sentenced the 86-year-old dictator to 80 years in prison and ordered the Guatemalan government to make “fair restitution” by asking the Ixil Mayans for forgiveness and making available public funds. It’s not over. Ríos Montt is expected to appeal.
The conviction is also remarkable in the international context. This is the first time a head of state (de facto, not de jure) has been convicted of genocide in his own country.
But what effect will this have? Is Adama Dieng, the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, justified in hoping this case sets an example to countries “that have failed to hold accountable those individuals responsible for serious and massive human rights violations.”
I doubt it. I might hope that President Omar al Bashir of Sudan will be tried one day in a Sudanese court, but it seems highly unlikely. I might hope even more that President Bashar al Asad of Syria be tried in Damascus, but the odds aren’t good for that either. I doubt one-tenth of those tried and convicted in The Hague at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia over the past 20 years would have been tried in their home countries, and possibly many fewer.
The more interesting question is how chiefs of state will behave in response to the Guatemalan decision. Will they constrain their genocidal instincts? Will they be more careful about claiming to control their troops? Will their lieutenants refuse to carry out orders? Will they outsource murder to paramilitaries? There are many ways of evading what happened to Ríos Montt, who left not only lots of documentation but even video of himself claiming to have complete command of the Guatemalan military.
Ríos Montt was popular in Washington with President Reagan. He was, after all, supposedly fighting Communists, which in the Central America of the 1980s could get you a blank check to do just about anything you wanted. Things have changed, but of course American support for leaders who torture and kill alleged Al Qaeda enemies is still with us. It isn’t genocide, but it isn’t pretty either. A good deal of effort goes into making sure we don’t get the full picture, including about our own government’s misdeeds.
This brings me to where I started: the Guatemalans have done themselves proud. But whether they have set a good precedent, or discouraged others from misbehavior, will be determined by what brave people in other countries, including our own, do to follow the Guatemalan lead. I’m not confident others can match their lead.