ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, that's the verdict today against Efrain Rios Montt, a former dictator of Guatemala. The general ruled the Central American nation in the early 1980s, one of the bloodiest periods of its 36-year-long civil war. Rios Montt, now 86 years old, was found responsible for atrocities committed against the Maya Ixil indigenous group. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Presiding Judge Yasmin Barrios read the verdict to a packed audience in the expansive Supreme Court auditorium.
JUDGE YASMIN BARRIOS: (Foreign language spoken)
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Barrios said the conduct of Jose Efrain Rios Montt falls under the crime of genocide. Yes, she said, there was genocide and Rios Montt did nothing to stop it. The standing room-only crowd, including dozens of indigenous survivors, broke into applause as she passed the sentence.
BARRIOS: (Foreign language spoken)
KAHN: Fifty years in prison for genocide, another 30 for crimes against humanity. She said the evidence clearly showed the army, under the control of General Rios Montt, had a systemic and clear plan to exterminate the Ixil people, who they considered enemies of the state. Barrios says the judges felt the pain of the witnesses who testified to surviving the destruction of their homes and the murder of their relatives. She said the testimony of dozens of women recounting rape was horrific, and it was clear that sexual assault was used as a weapon of war.
Guatemala was embroiled in a civil war for 36 years ending in 1996. More than 200,000 people died. The regime of Rios Montt in 1982 and 1983 was backed by the U.S. government. The judge ordered Rios Montt, who has been under house arrest for several months, sent directly to jail. He has long declared his innocence. He said he never gave an order for genocide. Rios Montt said if atrocities were committed, they were done by rogue field commanders and that he was unaware of much going on in the highlands of Guatemala.
The defense has said it will appeal the court's ruling and has called into question the judge's impartiality on several occasions. Carrie Kahn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.