Guatemala's Constitutional Court on Monday overturned the recent conviction and sentencing of former military ruler Efrain Rios Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity.
"This ruling is a devastating blow for the victims of the serious human rights violations committed during the conflict," said Sebastian Elgueta, Amnesty International's researcher on Guatemala.
"The legal basis for the ruling is unclear, and it is uncertain how the trial court can hit the reset button to get back to a point in mid-April. What is clear is that the Constitutional Court has just thrown up formidable obstacles to justice and accountability for a harrowing period in Guatemala's recent history.
"With the sentence on 10 May, the trial court had sent a strong signal that crimes against thousands of Mayan victims would not be tolerated. The Constitutional Court has now questioned that message, putting the right to truth, justice and reparation at risk in Guatemala."
Ríos Montt had been convicted and sentenced to 80 years for his role as the intellectual author of the killings of 1,771 individuals and the forced displacement of tens of thousands more from the Ixil triangle region of southern Quiché department in 1982 and 1983 in the midst of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict.
A UN-backed truth commission found that some 200,000 people were killed or disappeared during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war (1960-1996). More than 80 per cent were of indigenous Mayan descent.
Despite recent efforts to strengthen justice and accountability for past abuses, the Guatemalan armed forces remain uncooperative when it comes to investigations of violations committed during the armed conflict.
The army continues to refuse to provide information to investigations into killings, enforced disappearances, the use of rape as a weapon of war, and other crimes committed during the conflict.
The failure to provide any documentation places a huge burden on families and victims who pursue justice, or are simply seeking to find the whereabouts of their disappeared loved ones.