IACHR Expresses Concern Over Impeachment Proceedings Brought Against Members of Guatemala's Constitutional Court

March 18, 2021

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over the referral and processing of new impeachment proceedings against members of the Constitutional Court (CC) in Guatemala. The IACHR urged the State of Guatemala to guarantee the judicial independence of justice operators.

According to publicly available information, through a resolution dated March 3, 2021, the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) submitted new preliminary proceedings to the Congress of the Republic for the crimes of breach of trust, abuse of authority, and rulings that violate the Constitution regarding Judge Gloria Porras and Judge Francisco de Mata Vela, which will be heard by the plenary of the Congress on March 18. These impeachment proceedings are based on an alleged reasoning that runs counter to the Guatemalan Constitution in rulings issued by the CC as part of the appeals filed in response to the request for the Swedish Ambassador to Guatemala to depart the country in 2018. According to the information received by the IACHR, referring the impeachment hearings to Congress would contravene a final amparo ruling of the CC, in which it ordered the CSJ to issue a new ruling on the aforementioned case in accordance with national and international law. In addition, the IACHR noted that these proceedings have been processed since the appointment of Gloria Porras to the CC for 2021–2026.

In response to the impeachment proceedings against some of the CC magistrates, the State argued that it could not contravene existing international regulations by limiting Guatemalans from taking legal action when they believe events have taken place that may constitute crimes, especially when these actions are carried out as part of the citizen oversight that characterizes every democratic State. It also pointed out that impeachment is a tool to promote stability in the performance of office and to safeguard judicial independence and is contemplated by the law to be used to counter the improper use of criminal law.

In its report on Guarantees for the Independence of Judicial Personnel published in 2013, the IACHR established that the validity of rights and freedoms within a democratic system requires a legal and institutional order in which laws prevail over the will of rulers and individuals, and in which there is effective legal control of the constitutionality and legality of public acts of power.

For this reason, unlike other public officials, judges enjoy reinforced guarantees for implementing their jurisdictional power, especially independence in exercising their functions. This guarantee is a corollary of the rights of access to justice enjoyed by all people and takes the form of an appropriate appointment process, irremovability from office, and guarantees against pressure.

In 2020, the IACHR expressed its concern over the expeditious processing and alleged abuse of the impeachment trial against judges of the CC in Guatemala, in order to intimidate and/or eventually remove them from office in retaliation for criteria they have issued in their rulings. In this regard, the IACHR noted that international law prohibits using the legal opinions or criteria of judicial personnel issued in a ruling as part of the exercise of their jurisdictional functions as grounds for disciplinary action or, in this case, an impeachment hearing.

The IACHR noted once more that it is the State's duty to protect those who work in the field of justice from attacks, intimidation, threats, and harassment by investigating those who violate their rights, who should be sanctioned appropriately. If States do not ensure that judicial personnel are safe from pressure of all kinds, including reprisals seeking to attack them or their families directly, the exercise of judicial authority could be seriously jeopardized, which would thwart effective access to justice. In this regard, the IACHR also notes that Judge Gloria Porras and Judge Francisco de Mata Vela are beneficiaries of precautionary measures nos. 431-17 and 56-19 respectively, as requested by the IACHR of the Guatemalan State.

The IACHR urged the State of Guatemala to put an end to all actions that constitute severe threats to the independence of CC judges, particularly abstaining from implementing impeachment proceedings based on the legal opinions of judicial personnel.

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. 065/21