Guatemala Ex-Dictator Heads for Genocide Trial
Montt accused of overseeing atrocities against Mayan civilians
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 29, 2013 12:03 AM CST
Guatemala's former strongman Efrain Rios Montt gestures next to his lawyers in a Guatemala City courtroom.   (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

(Newser) – A former US-backed dictator who presided over one of the bloodiest periods of Guatemala's civil war will stand trial on charges he ordered the murder, torture, and displacement of thousands of Mayan Indians, a judge has ruled. Human rights advocates have said that the prosecution of Jose Efrain Rios Montt would be an important symbolic victory for the victims of one of the most horrific of the conflicts that devastated Central America during the last decades of the Cold War.

The 86-year-old is the first former president to be charged with genocide by a Latin American court. Guatemala's leaders have been criticized for years for their inability or unwillingness to prosecute government forces and paramilitaries accused of marching into Mayan villages, carrying out rapes and torture, and slaughtering women, children, and unarmed men in a "scorched earth" campaign aimed at eliminating support for a left-wing guerrilla movement.