Date Issued: January 20, 2009
UPDATE: On September 29, 2009, a Guatemalan judge dismissed all charges against LGBT activist Jorge Lopez. Prosecutors may still appeal, but we are confident that their petition will be denied and recognized as an attempt to discourage López’s human rights advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community.
UPDATE: At his court hearing, Jorge Lopez’s house detention was lifted and the attempted murder charges were dropped. An investigation continues against him for minor criminal charges.
An arrest warrant has been issued against Guatemalan human rights activist Jorge Lopez. A Guatemalan prosecutor has charged him with the attempted murder of a transgender sex worker.
Lopez is the director of a prominent organization that works to protect the rights of transgendered sex workers in Guatemala and he has spent many years advocating for them. He worked closely with the victim and sought police protection for her shortly before the attack. He later submitted complaints about police misconduct against sex workers, shortly before the arrest warrant against him was issued.
On Friday January 23, 2009, Lopez faces a court hearing and may be sent to prison. Given the nature of his work, he would face considerable risks in prison. It is possible to prevent an unnecessary trial, and even a conviction, if the appropriate authorities can determine now that there is insufficient evidence to arrest and charge Lopez.
Take action now to urge the Guatemalan Attorney General to immediately begin an independent review of the validity of the charges against Lopez. If there is insufficient evidence suggesting his involvement in the crime, the criminal investigation should be closed immediately.
Tell Me More:
The criminal investigation of Jorge Lopez may be a form of persecution and intimidation. Lopez has suffered many threats and attacks in recent years, apparent efforts to impede the progress of his work and respect for the human rights of sexually diverse communities. In a study conducted by his organization, Lopez noted that “the Guatemalan government has given clear indications of its lack of interest in guaranteeing the rights to life, physical integrity, freedom, and the security of sexual minorities. But above all it has demonstrated its incapacity to fulfill its obligation to impart justice. This situation is aggravated by the direct participation of state employees in many of the acts of aggression.”
The issuance of an arrest warrant against Lopez could be an effort to intimidate and dissuade him from engaging in human rights advocacy for the LGBT community.
Jose Amilcar Velasquez Zarate
Attorney General and Head of the Public Prosecutor’s Office
Fiscal General de la Republica y Jefe del Ministerio Publico
15 avenida 15-16, 8o nivel
zona 1 Barrio Gerona,
Ciudad de Guatemala, GUATEMALA
Dear Mr. Velasquez,
I am writing to express my concern over the issuance of an arrest warrant against Jorge Lopez Sologaistoa for alleged involvement in the assault of sex worker “Laila”. (Her real name is on file with the prosecutor and is not used in this public document for security reasons.) I urge you to immediately begin an impartial review of the validity of the charges against him and to close the case against him if there is insufficient evidence.
Lopez is the Director of the Organization to Support an Integrated Sexuality to Confront AIDS (OASIS), in Guatemala City. He is recognized as a leading advocate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities and sex workers and has engaged in advocacy around the world to prevent violence against them.
On July 4, 2008, Lopez assisted a group of sex workers to lodge a complaint with the National Civil Police (PNC) about various violent attacks suffered by sex workers the day before (MP001-2008-66376). Lopez requested that police provide greater security to the sex workers in the street, including Laila. In particular, he warned the police and Laila about the possibility of an imminent attack against sex workers. Despite Lopez’ warnings, Laila was assaulted and badly injured that evening, reportedly by two unidentified individuals.
Two months later, on September 9, 2008, Lopez submitted a formal complaint to the police and the Public Prosecutor in a separate case. The complaint alleged that police had subjected a group of sex workers to illegal detention, threats, intimidation and humiliating treatment. On November 4, 2008, Claudia Martine Munoz Andrade, Prosecutor 11 of the Unit for Crimes against Life and Integrity of the Person issued an arrest warrant against Lopez, accusing him of the attempted murder of Laila in relation to the July 4 assault .
Lopez has devoted his career to the advancement and protection of the human rights of LGBT communities. Given the actions he took to prevent the assault of Laila, the prosecutor would need strong evidence linking him to the crime to justify an arrest warrant. Yet, I understand that the testimony from the victim and a witness does not identify Lopez as one of the attackers. Prosecutors are obliged to abide by due process standards and to assess exculpatory evidence favorable to the defendant. Article 14 of the United Nations Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors states that “prosecutors shall not initiate or continue prosecution, or shall make every effort to stay proceedings, when an impartial investigation shows the charge to be unfounded.”1
I am concerned by the failure of authorities to investigate the complaints presented by Lopez of police misconduct and also by the failure to adequately investigate the assault of Laila. I fear that Lopez’s warnings of an imminent attack against Laila and other sex workers may have been mistaken for involvement in the crime. I also fear that the issuance of the arrest warrant may have been related to his complaints of police misconduct and could be intended to impede OASIS’s work to promote respect for LGBT communities in Guatemala.
The court has already upheld the arrest warrant against Lopez, and he has a hearing on January 23, 2009, before the 9th Court of First Instance for Crimes, Drugs and Environmental Offences. I urge you to immediately appoint the human rights prosecutor from the public prosecutors office, together with the human rights unit of the Police’s Investigation Division (DINC), to investigate the claims against Lopez. The review should analyze whether the criminal investigation comports with the due process standards contained in Guatemalan criminal law and international law and should thoroughly assess all exculpatory evidence. Unless there is sufficient, corroborated evidence demonstrating Lopez’s guilt, I urge you to close the criminal investigations against him
Thank you for your attention in this urgent matter. I will continue to closely monitor this situation.
1 Adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, 27 August to 7 September 1990.
Ministro de Gobernacion
6a Avenida 13-71, Zona 1,
Ciudad de Guatemala, GUATEMALA
Aura Marina Mancilla
Jefa de la Seccion de Derechos Humanos, Ministerio Publico
10a Calle 10-14, Zona 1
Edificio UP, 5o nivel
Ciudad de Guatemala
Lic. Orlando Blanco
Secretaria Presidencial para los Derechos Humanos y la Paz
7a avenida 3-54
Edificio SAE, zona 1.
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala
Sergio Fernando Morales Alvarado
Procuraduria de los Derechos Humanos (PDH)
12 Avenida 12-72, zona 1
Cuidad de Guatemala, Guatemala