IACHR Expresses Concern over Actions That Weaken Judicial Independence in Guatemala

August 6, 2021

Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern over actions that are weakening judicial independence in Guatemala and urged the State to prioritize and strengthen the fight against impunity and corruption by respecting an independent, impartial justice system.

The IACHR was extremely concerned to receive information regarding the dismissal of Juan Francisco Sandoval, the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity, following an order issued by the Public Prosecutor on July 23, 2021. According to public information, the Attorney General of the Republic and the Public Prosecutor announced the dismissal of the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity, allegedly for submitting a written objection to a verbal instruction that he received. According to the information the IACHR received, this dismissal is apparently arbitrary and illegal and would allegedly call into question the State of Guatemala's fight against corruption as it would imply a failure to comply with international standards on due process and the grounds established in the country's national regulations for the dismissal of government officials.

The IACHR noted with concern that the dismissal of the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity has taken place as part of a series of actions that have weakened the independence of judicial personnel and therefore constitute severe setbacks in the fight against corruption and impunity in the country.

In 2021, information was received regarding the criminalization, harassment, and judicial persecution of judges, prosecutors, former prosecutors, and magistrates due to their work investigating or prosecuting criminal structures with ties to those holding political and economic power, emblematic cases of serious human rights violations during the armed conflict, or because they supported the work of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.

Of particular concern is the severe, ongoing criminalization of judges in high-risk jurisdictions in Guatemala, including Pablo Xitumul De Paz, Miguel Angel Gálvez Aguilar, Iris Yassmín Barrios Aguilar, and Erika Lorena Aifán Dávila, all of whom are beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR.

Likewise, the IACHR reiterated its concern regarding the refusal of the Congress of the Republic to swear in Judge Gloria Porras, who was elected to the Constitutional Court for a new term but has not yet been able to take office.

In a communiqué dated August 5, 2021, the State of Guatemala informed the IACHR that it provides comprehensive safeguards for stability in such offices and for judicial independence through the procedures established in its legislation. It also noted that the Public Prosecutor's Office has a Human Rights Prosecutor's Office that is divided into prosecution units, which hear different cases in accordance with the function and activities each carries out. It also noted that it has guaranteed the security and integrity of all magistrates and judges in the Republic of Guatemala, taking into account the precautionary measures issued by the IACHR and those decreed and/or requested by judicial personnel.

The IACHR reminded the State of its duty to protect those who work in the field of justice from attacks, intimidation, threats, and harassment. It should investigate those who violate these individuals' rights and sanction them appropriately. If States fail to ensure that judicial personnel are safe from all forms of pressure, the exercise of judicial authority could be seriously jeopardized, which would thwart effective access to justice.

In Resolution 1/17 on human rights and the fight against impunity and corruption in the State of Guatemala, the IACHR emphasized that the fight against corruption is inextricably linked to the exercise and enjoyment of human rights. Likewise, in its Report on Corruption and Human Rights, it stated that corruption is a complex phenomenon that jeopardizes the enjoyment and exercise of human rights, weakens governance and democratic institutions, fosters impunity, undermines the rule of law, and increases inequality.

In response, the IACHR called on Guatemala to confirm the importance of the fight against corruption in combating impunity through a stronger, independent, impartial justice system. It also underscored the importance of establishing protection measures for judicial personnel and investigators in order to guarantee their ability to go about their work free from threats, intimidation, and other forms of harassment. Finally, it underlined the importance of the work of human rights defenders in the struggle against corruption and noted that it is States' duty to guarantee safe conditions for them to go about their work in.

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.

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