IACHR refers case on Peru to the Inter-American Court

May 19, 2021

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Washington, D.C. - On May 12, 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed the case of Humberto Cajahuanca Vásquez, regarding Peru, before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case refers to the violation of Mr. Cajahuanca's judicial guarantees in the context of a disciplinary process against him, which resulted in the removal of his position as a judge of the Superior Court of Justice of Huánuco.

The National Council of the Magistracy (CNM) initiated a process against Mr. Cajahuanca, arguing that he had appointed a substitute judge in an irregular manner. The CNM considered that with the omission in the procedure, the victim "incurred in acts that, without being a crime, compromise the dignity of the position of President of the Superior Court, demeaning in the public opinion, according to the provisions of Article 31, paragraph 2 of Law 26.397". Consequently, it ordered his dismissal and the cancellation of his appointment as judge, although the legal system provided for a lesser sanction for the same conduct. Additionally, a criminal proceeding was initiated against him in which he was finally acquitted.

Faced with the decision of his removal from office, he filed an appeal for reconsideration, which was negatively resolved by the CNM under the same grounds of the dismissal. Subsequently, he filed a constitutional appeal, which was declared unfounded, since it considered that the CNM acted in strict compliance with its functions and respecting its legal powers. In the last instance, the Constitutional Court declared the appeal inadmissible and stated that it had respected the guarantees of due process without proving any violation of constitutional rights.

In its Report on the Merits, the IACHR analyzed the components of the judicial guarantees applicable to disciplinary proceedings against judges: the principle of legality and favorability, judicial independence and the right to have reasoned decisions, the right to appeal the decision and to judicial protection. The Commission observed that the grounds provided for in the law and applied to Mr. Cajahuanca Vásquez were significantly broad and did not refer to specific conduct that is reprehensible under disciplinary law. It also noted that the regulatory framework did not distinguish the applicable sanctions in accordance with the level of seriousness of previously delimited causes, so that the disciplinary authority has elements to ensure that the sanction imposed is proportional to the seriousness of the reproachable conduct of the judge. In addition, the disciplinary body chose to apply the most unfavorable sanction.

On the other hand, the Commission considered that the normative design existing at that time did not allow for the clear identification of elements such as malice or the seriousness of acts against the image of the Judicial Branch or the dignity of its members, an aspect that gave excessive discretion to the judge when applying the most severe sanction, as occurred in this case. In the same sense, the IACHR considered that the sanctioning decision does not offer a motivation in this sense and is limited to indicating that the conduct of Mr. Cajahuanca Vásquez was serious and demonstrated a breach of essential duties.

Finally, in relation to the right to appeal the decision and judicial protection, the Commission observed that there was no administrative or judicial recourse to obtain a full review of the sanctioning decision by a hierarchical authority. Likewise, from the content of the amparo decisions, it is clear that the competent bodies did not carry out a comprehensive review of both factual and legal aspects of the decision to dismiss the alleged victim, limiting the scope of their competence to due process issues.

In its Report on the Merits, the IACHR recommended that the State:

  1. Reinstate Humberto Cajahuanca Vásquez, if this is his wish, in a position similar to the one he held in the Judicial Branch, with the same remuneration, social benefits and rank comparable to those that would correspond to him today if he had not been dismissed. If for justified reasons it is not possible to reinstate him, pay an alternative compensation.
  2. Make full reparation for the violations of rights declared in this report, including the payment of compensation for material and non-material damages.
  3. Adapt domestic legislation to ensure that disciplinary proceedings against justice operators are compatible with the standards of judicial independence established in this report and comply with all the guarantees of due process and the principle of legality. Specifically, the necessary measures should be taken to ensure that the processes guarantee the right to appeal the disciplinary decision and judicial protection. Likewise, ensure that the disciplinary grounds applied and their sanctions comply with the principle of legality.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 127/21