Global Freedom of Expression

Ríos Montt v. Second Judge of First Criminal Instance

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Public Documents
  • Date of Decision
    March 5, 2008
  • Outcome
    Access to Information Granted, Monetary Damages / Fines
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Guatemala, Latin-America and Caribbean
  • Judicial Body
    Constitutional Court
  • Type of Law
    Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Access to Public Information

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This case is available in additional languages:    View in: Español

Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Constitutional Court of Guatemala authorized the Attorney General’s Office to investigate documents regarding military operations conducted during José Efraín Rios Montt’s presidential mandate. The Court found that this information could not be considered an official State secret, since no law allowed its classification, and therefore the Public Prosecutor should be able to access these documents and use them in the criminal proceedings for genocide held against the former president.


The Attorney General’s Office requested from the Ministry of Defense access to some documents concerning military operations carried out during the dictatorship of José Efraín Rios Montt. These documents were meant to be used as evidence in criminal proceedings against the former president for the crime of genocide. The Ministry granted access to the documents, but Rios Montt filed an appeal for reconsideration, arguing that they contained information related to secret military matters. The judge dismissed the appeal.

Rios Montt filed a claim (amparo action), arguing that the disclosure of information previously classified as confidential violates the principles of legality and publicity of the administrative act. He also considered that the illegitimate incorporation of such documents as evidence in a criminal proceeding violated the right to due process. In this sense, he requested that the administrative act that had granted access to the documents be overturned. A first-instance court rejected the claim, and the Constitutional Court confirmed the appealed sentence, granting access to the information.

Decision Overview

The Court had to decide whether documents containing information on military operations can be publicly available and used as evidence in criminal proceedings for genocide.

According to the Constitutional Court, article 30 of the Constitution establishes the publicity of all governmental acts, with the exception of two cases: “a) military or diplomatic matters of national security, and b) data provided by private parties under the guarantee of confidentiality” [p. 7-8]. In the first case, the information must have the capacity to “preserve the physical integrity and honor of the nation and its territory; or to protect the constituent elements of the State against any aggression by foreign groups or belligerent nationals” [p. 8]. However, the Court clarified that the quality of such information must be duly accredited.

The Court held that the plaintiff did not prove that the information in question fell under either of those two assumptions and therefore denied the claim, maintaining access to the documents. Additionally, the Court ordered the plaintiff to pay a fine for filing an amparo action that was clearly frivolous and clearly improper.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The decision expands the scope of the right not only because it allows access to public documents, but also because it establishes that whoever denies access to information must duly prove that the data is secret or confidential. If this is not proved, the right of the public to know the content of the documents prevails.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Guat., Constitution of Guatemala (1985), art. 30.
  • Guat., Constitutional Court, Ruling 2819-2004

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Official Case Documents

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