International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Appeals Court Rejects Travel Ban Imposed on Genocide Prosecutor

On Friday, an appeals court unanimously rejected a travel ban which had been imposed on the lead prosecutor in the 2013 genocide trial of former Guatemalan head of state Efraín Ríos Montt.

Prosecutor Orlando Lopez had not been indicted and did not face any criminal charges, yet Judge Darwin Porras had imposed a travel ban (arraigo) against him on April 13. Such actions are taken to prevent the risk of flight from the country during an investigation, though Judge Porras had not sought any evidence that the prosecutor was a flight risk.

The flight ban had been in response to a February 22 criminal complaint by Ricardo Mendez Ruiz, son of former Rios Montt’s interior minister and current president of the Guatemalan … Continue Reading

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Guatemala Transitional Justice Update: Rios Montt Challenges July Retrial and Fourth Police Official Arrested for 1991 Political Assassination

Highlights

Former head of state Efraín Rios Montt sought to prevent a new trial scheduled for July 23 after his 2013 conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity was annulled on a technicality.
The former head of the National Police’s criminal investigation unit was arrested in relation with the 1991 killing of police investigator José Mérida Escobar in retaliation for his testimony about the political assassination of anthropologist Myrna Mack. Martin Alejandro Garcia is now the fourth police official arrested and awaiting trial in connection with the case.
An investigative judge accepted the introduction of most of the evidence in a case challenging 1980s sexual violence in the Sepur Zarco military installation, marking the last stage before a trial date can be set.
Guatemala’s … Continue Reading

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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 … Continue Reading

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Rios Montt’s Defense Attorney Killed by Hitmen in Guatemala City

Prominent Guatemalan attorney Francisco Palomo died yesterday, June 3, shot to death in broad daylight while driving his car a block from his office. According to witnesses, Palomo was killed around 1:00PM by two men on a motorbike who followed Palomo’s car and fired at him repeatedly before fleeing. Palomo, who represented former military head of state Efraín Rios Montt, died at the scene with at least 12 gunshot wounds. Investigators described the killing as a “direct attack” on Palomo. The identity of his killers remains unknown.

Palomo, who was 63 years old, was involved in many of Guatemala’s most politically fraught trials, including serving on the legal team defending Rios Montt during his 2013 prosecution for genocide and crimes against … Continue Reading

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Genocide Case Against General Rios Montt Faces Closure

More than two years after the Guatemalan Constitutional Court swiftly annulled the historic genocide conviction against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt on technicalities, the prospect for any new trial is becoming increasingly unlikely. Last week, the national forensic institute asserted that the former general’s health is deteriorating, affecting his mental capacities, and requested that the court order a psychiatric assessment. Rios Montt’s defense attorneys argue that the case should be closed if Rios Montt is deemed unfit for trial; the law prohibits prosecution where the defendant is intellectually incapacitated.

A retrial scheduled for January 5, 2015, already 19 months after the initial verdict, was suspended after Rios Montt’s defense lawyers forced the ouster of one of the judges on last-minute allegations … Continue Reading

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New Corruption Scandal Plunges Guatemala’s Government Further Into Crisis

In the midst of what experts have characterized as the worst political crisis in years, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the public prosecutor struck again last week, arresting 17 in connection with corruption at Guatemala’s social security institute. Amongst those arrested was Juan de Dios Rodriguez, the institute’s president and the former private secretary of Guatemala’s head of state Otto Pérez Molina. CICIG, whose demise had been predicted only weeks ago, has been instrumental in uncovering numerous significant corruption scandals.

According to prosecutors, the social security institute fraudulently awarded a US$ 15 million contract to the Pisa pharmaceutical company, at more than 15 percent commission, to ensure renal dialysis to social security patients though Pisa had neither … Continue Reading

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Former Constitutional Court Judge Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre Appointed Vice President

Guatemala’s Congress appointed Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre vice president on May 14 following the May 8 resignation of Roxana Baldetti amid a growing tax fraud scandal that named Baldetti’s private secretary as ringleader.

Maldonado was one of three candidates put forth by President Otto Pérez Molina. An earlier list included Labor Minister Carlos Contreras, constitutionally barred from participating, and legislator Oliverio Garcia Rodas, removed from the list following a failure of the congress to reach an agreement.

Maldonado is no stranger to the executive. Since the 1960s, he was a member of the far-right political party National Liberation Movement (Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional – MLN), alleged to have started the use of death squads against communists. He was also minister of education under … Continue Reading

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Guatemala’s President Gives CICIG Extension a Green Light

Today, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina announced at a press conference that he will ask the United Nations Secretary General to extend the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) for an additional two-year period. The current mandate of CICIG, which was first established in the country in 2007 to fight against impunity, was set to expire on September 3, 2015. Since CICIG’s creation, its mandate has been extended three times.

President Pérez Molina’s decision had been far from assured.  Early this year, he declared that the country no longer needed CICIG.  He then appointed a committee to examine the question and report back with a recommendation on the question of extension. The president of the Supreme Court, … Continue Reading

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CICIG Acts as Decision on Mandate Extension Nears

As Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina nears a final decision on whether to extend the mandate of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), it moved in dramatic fashion with the public prosecutor last Thursday, April 16, to dismantle a network allegedly siphoning off customs revenue. Agents arrested 20 persons allegedly linked to the scheme.  The current and former directors of the national tax institution are among those detained.  The action may have far-reaching consequences for domestic politics and factor into the decision on the prolongation of CICIG’s institutional life.

Investigators built the case mainly on the basis of documents and wiretaps, from which they could identify various persons involved in the criminal network and their roles. According to CICIG … Continue Reading

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Judge Imposes Travel Ban on Prosecutor Following His Public Statements About Historic Genocide Trial

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 … Continue Reading

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