Less than two weeks after human rights groups thought the world had finally recognized the genocide committed against the Ixil Myan people by former dictator General Efrain Rios Montt, an appeal court ruled in his favor and ordered a new trial.

It is very rare when any nation convicts a former leader of war crimes, so the verdict raised hopes that other threatened populations of the earth might find a new voice on the world scene. It was hoped that powerful nations like the US would rethink their support of such heartless dictators.

The Constitutional Court said the landmark trial of Rios Montt should have been halted and rewound to an earlier date because of a jurisdictional dispute, Guatemala’s Prensa Libre reported on its website. The ruling suggested that Rios Montt would be retried or that parts of the trial, which contained graphic and chilling testimony from victims, would be redone.

A three-judge panel convicted Rios Montt, 86, on May 10 of genocide in the slaughter of more than 1,700 Ixil Maya in the early 1980s, some of the bloodiest years of Guatemala’s long civil war and the period during which he served as de facto president of the country.

Rios Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison, but that sentence was vacated in the Monday ruling. The conviction had represented a rare prosecution of a former leader on human rights atrocities by a court of his own nation. –Los Angeles Times

Eventually, Montt will be retried, but this verdict is a tragic reminder of how easy it is for the powerful and wealthy to live above the law, and hard it is for the earth’s poor and wretched to ever get their day in court.