On the afternoon of Monday, December 5, Judge Claudette Domínguez of High Risk Tribunal “A” imposed a travel ban on Congressman Edgar Justino Ovalle. Ovalle is currently under impeachment proceedings in response to a petition filed by the Attorney General’s Office to revoke his congressional immunity in order to prosecute him for war crimes in the CREOMPAZ case. The ruling came about in response to a petition filed by the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office, which is directed by Hilda Pineda, earlier the same day.
The battle over Ovalle’s congressional immunity has been brewing for nearly a year. On January 6, 2016, the Attorney General’s Office sought to revoke Ovalle’s immunity in order to prosecute him, along with several other high-ranking military officials, in the CREOMPAZ case. That same day, the Attorney General’s Office arrested 14 military officials in relation to the CREOMPAZ case and another four in relation to the Molina Theissen case.
CREOMPAZ is the current name for the installations in Cobán, Alta Verapaz where Military Base No. 21 (MZ21) was located. Since 2012, investigators have exhumed 558 bodies from MZ21, over 100 of which have been identified as victims of enforced disappearance and related crimes.
The original impeachment request was denied by the Supreme Court within a matter of weeks. However, in August, the Constitutional Court ordered the Supreme Court to review its decision after Pineda filed a protective measure, or amparo, and laid out the case against Ovalle. In response, the Supreme Court initiated impeachment proceedings against the former military officer and appointed a judge to study the matter. The deadline for the judge’s decision has come and gone, prompting families of the victims to stage a protest last week against the Supreme Court demanding revocation of Ovalle’s immunity.
Pineda told International Justice Monitor that she sought the travel ban in order to guarantee access to justice for the victims in the CREOMPAZ case. She expects a ruling to be imminent in the case and says that there are tangible concerns that he may flee the country. Earlier this year, another congressman, Luis Rabbé, fled the country after he learned that his immunity had been revoked in relation to his alleged involvement in a government corruption scheme known as the cooptation of the state case.
El Periodico reports that Ovalle’s lawyer, Raúl Falla Ovalle, filed an amparo against the judge’s decision. Falla Ovalle also stated that he would be filing charges against Pineda and Judge Domínguez for violating the terms of parliamentary immunity enjoyed by his client.
According to Guatemala press reports, Ovalle is one of the founders of the official FCN (Frente de Convergencia Nacional) party, which was created in 2008 by a group of retired military officials who are members of the Association of Guatemalan Military Veterans (AVEMILGUA). FCN is also the party that brought president Jimmy Morales to power in elections last year. Many of these officials, including Ovalle, were involved in the counterinsurgency operations of the 1970s and 1980s. Ovalle is also reported to be one of Morales’ closest advisors, and according to press accounts, it was he who invited Morales to stand for president with the FCN in 2015.
Jo-Marie Burt is an associate professor of political science and Latin American Studies at George Mason University. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). She is an expert on human rights, transitional justice, and war crimes prosecutions in Latin America. This report was prepared with the assistance of Paulo Estrada, human rights activist, archaeology student at San Carlos University, and civil party in the Military Diary case.