A Guatemalan judge, Darwin Porras, has banned Orlando López, the lead prosecutor in Guatemala’s historic 2013 genocide trial, from leaving the country pending the outcome of a criminal investigation of public statements he made in Spain a year ago. Judge Porras’s travel ban (arraigo) order was in response to a complaint by Ricardo Mendez Ruiz, the son of Ríos Montt’s former interior minister.
López is the head of the Guatemala’s prosecution unit handling human rights abuses, and led the 2013 prosecution for genocide and crimes against humanity of former de facto head of state Efraín Ríos Montt.
Mendez Ruiz is the president of the Foundation Against Terrorism, a Guatemalan group with strong military ties which filed a complaint on February 22 accusing López of abuse of authority and ‘passive bribery’ (cohecho pasivo). The complaint likens López to a “legal assassin serving terrorist groups.”
The complaint challenges public statements López made at an event in Spain on May 10, 2014, the one year anniversary of the guilty verdict in the Rios Montt genocide trial that was subsequently annulled. At the event, López provided a history of the case and related efforts to end the climate of impunity for grave crimes in Guatemala.
The complaint seeks an investigation into Lopez’ associations and into whether there are “other employees with totalitarian ideological tendencies which jeopardize the criminal and constitutional rights of defendants.”
López was not allowed to participate in the April 13 hearing. Nor was the prosecutor from the public ministry internal affairs unit. Judge Porras only permitted Méndez Ruíz and his attorney to appear.
No formal indictment has been presented and at this stage López is not facing any criminal charges. Only the public prosecutor has the authority to investigate the complaint and, if sufficient evidence exists, present an indictment.
Arraigo orders aim to prevent a person from fleeing the country during an investigation. In June 2014, Judge Gisela Reinoso ordered similar measures against former attorney general Claudia Paz y Paz, after the end of her term, linked to a civil dispute between Guatemala’s Public Ministry and a computer supplier. The travel ban, as well as a restriction on her assets, was dropped after two weeks after the constitutional court recognized it as a violation of Paz y Paz’ rights not to face restrictions without a hearing.
The move against Orlando López is the latest apparent retaliation by political supporters and allies of Rios Montt against those involved in his prosecution, including an ultimately unsuccessful effort to sanction the presiding judge, Yassmin Barrios, and the early termination of the term of the attorney general Paz y Paz, and the subsequent legal complaint against her.
Sophie Beaudoin contributed to the research and writing of this blog.