Guatemalan authorities withdrew legal immunity for a ruling party lawmaker and adviser to President Jimmy Morales after he was accused of participating in the country's worst massacre dating back to the civil war.
After a year of investigating, the Supreme Court ruled that Edgar Ovalle — member of Congress within the National Convergence Front party of President Morales — would lose parliamentary immunity, opening the door for an investigation and barring him from leaving the country. Ovalle's location is still unclear, according to authorities.
In January 2016, the attorney general's office began looking into Ovalle's involvement in forced disappearances and killings during the most brutal period of the civil war in the early 1980s.
Ovalle, considered one of the key strategists that helped bring President Morales to power, has been linked to human rights violations as a former general in Guatemala’s predominantly Indigenous Quiche region. During a 36-year civil war that ended in 1996, the Guatemalan state is suspected of carrying out at least 77 massacres, according to the National Security Archive.
Ovalle headed a specialized military unit in the infamous Military Zone 21, where the bodies of 550 Mayan people were found buried near Creompaz in the northern department of Alta Verapaz, one of the largest mass graves in Latin America to date. At least 90 were minors, according to the attorney general’s office.
According to investigations, Creompaz was a clandestine center for illegal detention, torture, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances and rape during the armed conflict.
Aura Farfan, who heads the Association of Detained and Disappeared Family Members of Guatemala, said the ruling was a key decision to bring justice.
“For us as relatives, it is encouraging. It gives us hope and strength and we hope due process is followed,” Farfan said.
Guatemala's 36-year civil war left more thab 200,000 people dead and disappeared, mostly from the Indigenous population. Thanks to rising pressure from Guatemalan civil society, the Central American nation has made key strides in recent years to bring perpetrators of war crimes to justice.
In February 2016, a court sentenced two former military officers to 120 and 240 years in jail for the enforced disappearance of seven men and the enslavement and systematic rape of 11 women in the Sepur Zarco case. In 2013, a court found former dictator Efrain Rios Montt guilty of genocide during the civil war, but the ruling was later overturned on a technicality. The 90-year-old now faces a retrial behind closed doors. Eight other retired soldiers are undergoing trials for forced disappearances and crimes against humanity in relation to the mass grave found in Creompaz.