Should Domestic Courts Prosecute Genocide? Examining the Trial of Efrain Rios Montt

50 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2014 Last revised: 1 May 2014

Date Written: 2014


In 2013, in a highly publicized case, Efraín Ríos Montt, the de facto leader of Guatemala from 1982-1983, was ordered to stand trial for genocide in Guatemala for the deaths of at least 1771 Ixil Mayan people during the most violent period of the country’s thirty-six-year-long civil war. The trial was historic; Ríos Montt became the first former head of state to be tried for genocide in his home country. This Article, using the Ríos Montt trial as a case study, asks: should domestic courts prosecute genocide? The Article argues that domestic prosecution of genocide is not inherently negative or positive, but could further certain goals of international criminal justice at the expense of others. While the domestic prosecution of genocide (in the country where it occurred) better satisfies legal jurisdiction requirements and serves the goals of transitional justice, it may do so at the expense of traditional criminal justice goals (including victims’ rights) and defendants’ right to a fair trial and due process.The international community, including countries that have experienced genocide, should analyze the most important goals in prosecution in deciding whether to refer a case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), allow a foreign court to prosecute the crime, or prosecute the crime at home.

Keywords: genocide, Guatemala, Rios Montt, Maya

Suggested Citation

Blake, Jillian, Should Domestic Courts Prosecute Genocide? Examining the Trial of Efrain Rios Montt (2014). Brooklyn Journal of International Law, Vol. 39, No. 2, 2014, Available at SSRN:

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