Guatemala City, San Jose and Washington DC—Orlando Salvador López, who was recently removed from his office as Chief Prosecutor of the Human Rights unit of the Public Ministry of Guatemala, was detained at his home this past Thursday, September 22. Mr. López is accused of having caused the death of a pedestrian in a traffic accident. At present, Mr. López is being held along with three agents assigned to his security as he awaits the opportunity to provide his initial statement and to appear before a judge who will decide his legal status.
In discharging his functions within the Human Rights Unit, López led the prosecution of grave human rights violations, including forced disappearances, sexual slavery, extrajudicial executions, and acts of genocide, always demonstrating exemplary professionalism, judicial independence, and commitment to justice. Due to the risk these cases presented to him, the Public Ministry assigned special protection measures on his behalf.
As a result of this important work towards Guatemalan justice, Mr. López has been the target of media attacks as well as a criminal complaint that was later dismissed by the judicial authorities. It is of the utmost importance that these prior attacks be taken into account in the consideration of his case, so that the authorities remain attentive and do not allow third parties to take advantage of this unfortunate situation as an opportunity for retaliation against Mr. López for his work with the Human Rights Unit at the Public Ministry.
With regards to the procedural situation of Mr. López and that of his three security guards, the signatory organizations urge the authorities to ensure that the necessary inquiries be conducted in conformity with the law and due process. We are concerned that Mr. López has been detained, considering that he is fully cooperating with the investigations and has made himself available to the authorities.
Due to his prior role as a prosecutor, Mr. López’s incarceration pending prosecution exposes him to a grave risk. The signatories wish to highlight that, as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has held, preventive detention is a precautionary measure, not a punitive one. It constitutes the most severe measure that can be imposed on a person accused of a crime. For this reason, it must only be used in exceptional cases and is justified only where it is necessary to ensure the accused will not impede nor escape the judicial process.
The signatories believe that, in this case, there are elements justifying the grant of a substitutive measure, given the fact that Mr. López is collaborating with the investigation. Furthermore, the signatories have been made aware that Mr. López only has limited access to legal advice. We therefore request that the right of any accused to benefit from the adequate time and means to communicate with an attorney of his choice be respected.
In light of the above, the signatory organizations urge the Guatemalan government to adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the life and integrity of Mr. López, and that of his security agents, bearing in mind Mr. López’s role in cases that are of the utmost importance to the public interest and that have led to systematic attacks by interest groups against human rights defenders, including members of the judiciary. The signatories express their solidarity with the family of the victim of this tragic event and support their right to access to justice so that light can be shed on the course of these events.
Lawyers Without Borders Canada (LWBC)
Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF)
Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC/USA)
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
International Platform Against Impunity (Pi)
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Anabella Sibrián, International Platform Against Impunity
+502 5060 0065, [email protected]
Andrew Fandino, GHRC/USA
+1 202 529 6599, [email protected]
Angelita Baeyens, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
+ 1 202 463 7575, [email protected]
Denis Martinez, Impunity Watch
+ 502 2221 1425, [email protected]
Dominic Voisard, Lawyers Without Borders Canada
+502 3144 4799, [email protected]
Francisca Stuardo, CEJIL
+506 2280 7473, [email protected]
Jo-Marie Burt, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
+1 703 946 9714, [email protected]
Leonor Arteaga, Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF)
+ 703 598 7085, [email protected]