More Pushback against Prosecutors in Human Rights Cases

Following an earlier controversial travel ban against the chief prosecutor in Guatemala’s human rights prosecution unit, a judge has now accepted an extended complaint against the entire human rights prosecution unit.

On April 13, Judge Darwin Porras issued a travel ban against Orlando López, the head of Guatemala’s human rights prosecution unit and the lead prosecutor in the 2013 historic genocide trial. The travel ban resulted from a challenge made by Ricardo Mendez Ruiz, the head of the Foundation Against Terrorism and son of Efrain Rios Montt’s interior minister. Mendez Ruiz sought the initiation of a criminal investigation of López because of public statements. Judge Porras initiated the investigation and instituted the travel ban without permitting either López or the prosecutor’s office to testify or even be present.

López filed a still pending constitutional challenge to the issuance of the travel ban without his participation. The public ministry’s internal armed conflict prosecution unit also published a press release defending the work and integrity of the prosecutors and challenging the complaint and travel ban.

In response, Mendez Ruiz extended his initial complaint to include the entire human rights unit and those responsible for operating the public prosecutor’s website, accusing them of being part of a criminal organization and obstructing justice. On April 21, Judge Porras accepted the extended complaint, which just came to light last week.

This follows from prior actions threatening judicial officers involved in the genocide trial. Judge Yassmin Barrios, who presided over the trial, faced repeated threats to sanction her.

Sepur Zarco Sexual Violence Hearing Delayed

The effort to prosecute two men for sexual violence committed at the Sepur Zarco military installation between 1982 and 1988 was again delayed last week.

A preliminary hearing scheduled for June 4 was rescheduled for June 10 because attorneys for one of the defendants—Lt. Col. Esteelmer Reyes—were absent. One attorney reported she was ill and the other attorney, Moises Galindo, excused himself to mourn the death of attorney Francisco Palomo, killed last week.

At the next hearing, the prosecutor is due to present the evidence it seeks to use at trial, the last stage before setting a start date for the trial.

Elite Team Investigates Francisco Palomo’s Death Amid Political Insecurity

Following the killing of prominent lawyer Francisco Palomo, an elite team of investigators has been assigned to the case, but the identity of the killers remains unknown. Investigators have identified various hypotheses, including the possibility of a political murder and a murder tied to a non-political case.

Demonstrations continue in Guatemala, but recent reports suggest that the government may also be involved in organizing counter-demonstrations to discredit the mass mobilization. On Friday, a previously unknown organization, Alianza Obrero Campesino, gathered and blocked the main entrance roads to the city. Military helicopters and tanks have also been patrolling the city at night, justified by the government as part of a modified security plan and by the defense ministry as normal troop movements.