Dictator in the Dock: Genocide on Trial in Guatemala


The Dictator in the Dock series brings viewers into the courtroom as former dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt stands trial for genocide and crimes against humanity in Guatemala. This historic case marked the first time, anywhere in the world, that a former head of state was tried for genocide in a national court, in the country where the crimes were committed.

It is also the first time in the history of South or North America, that the genocide of indigenous peoples was tried in a court of law, significantly in a country of the Americas with a majority indigenous population. As Francisco Soto, legal representative of the Maya victims, said in his concluding statement at the trial, “Justice is poised to play an important role in the historical memory of our country. For the first time in 500 years we are able to judge genocide.” The symbolic and precedent setting nature of this trial for all indigenous peoples and all national justice systems cannot be overestimated.

Skylight filmed the entire genocide trial of Ríos Montt from the day it started on March 19, 2013 to its conclusion on May 10, 2013, capturing the high-stakes drama of a reckoning with heinous crimes, an unveiling of impunity, and a nation’s struggle to reconcile with a legacy of mass atrocities.

This 23-episode short film series transports you inside the courtroom where Ríos Montt stands trial for genocide and crimes against humanity against the Ixil Maya people.

The following 5 episodes are available to the public to preview:

Episode GuideClick an item for more info

Episode 01 Anticipating Justice

Day One, March 19th, 2013

Highlights from the trial of José Efraín Ríos Montt for crimes against humanity and genocide.

Episode 02 Unspeakable Cruelty

Day One, March 19th, 2013

An Ixil Maya witness testifies to the horrors committed by government troops in his village 30 years ago.

Episode 03 Order in the Court

Day One, March 19th, 2013

Judge Yassmín Barrios maintains control in a courtroom that threatens to erupt into chaos at any moment.

Episode 06 A Trial of Two Languages

Day Two, March 20, 2013

In spite of the suspension of the oral debates, over 100 witnesses for the prosecution testified – many of whom were Ixil Maya, who testified in their own language. See the controversy that arose in the midst of the trial over a disagreement over how to interpret the  language.

Episode 10 An Attempt to Decimate the Future

Day Eight, April 2, 2013

In an incredible display of courage, an Ixil Maya woman testifies to sexual violence, an act of genocide. In the audience, women cover their heads in solidarity.

About the Project

Film Details

Release date: Oct 17, 2013
Running time: 140m


Paco de Onís, Producer

Pamela Yates, Director

Peter Kinoy, Editor

Daniela I. Quiroz, Editor

Beatriz Gallardo, Producer

Flannery Miller, Producer

Daniel Hernández-Salazar, Photography