Press Release

IACHR Reiterates its Concern about the Processes to Select and Appoint Judges to Guatemala’s Appeals Court and Supreme Court

September 27, 2014

Washington, D.C. - Taking into account the recent election of judges to the Supreme Court of Justice and the upcoming appointment of judges to the Appeals Chambers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reiterates to the State of Guatemala that it has the obligation to comply with the standards of international law necessary to ensure the independence of justice operators.

Over the past few months the Commission, through its various mechanisms, has monitored the procedures for selecting justice operators in Guatemala. Accordingly, in its release dated April 21, 2014, the IACHR urged Guatemala to ensure transparency and observe the minimum standards for the appointment of justice operators. According to publicly available information, on September 24, 2014, the Congress reportedly elected judges to the Supreme Court before the 72-hour period established in the Law on Nominating Committees for challenges to be filed – had ended, thus affecting the procedure established under Guatemalan law. In this sense, civil society organizations have expressed that the election would have been based on personal and/or partisan interests without assessing the suitability of the candidates.

The Commission has recommended that citizens, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders should have an opportunity to challenge candidates for justice operators posts, and therefore expresses its concern that the period to file challenges was restricted.

It was also drawn to the Commission’s attention that Congress would soon be electing magistrates to the Appeals Chambers, from a slate of 252 candidates proposed by the Nomination Committee on September 22, 2014. According to publicly available information, several national and international organizations have questioned the two nomination processes, from the integration of the nominating committees to the proposed list of candidates. Specifically, they have publicly complained about a lack of rigor, potential conflicts of interest, influence peddling, inadequate scrutiny of candidates, and the lack of objective criteria for nominations. A number of challenges related to each stage of the selection process have so far been lodged with the Constitutional Court. With regard to one of those challenges already settled, the Constitutional Court on June 13, 2014, reiterated that "commissioners must make an objective and reasonable evaluation, based on the records presented by the participants, their own investigation, and interviews conducted, after the aspects outlined have been duly considered, and should be mindful that mere participation alone implies that the candidate has met the requirement of holding a university degree, without said evaluation being in lieu of the obligation of each member of the Nominating Committee to publicly justify, in a reasoned and explicit manner at the time of voting, why a particular candidate is elected or not elected."

The Commission reminds the standards enshrined in its report on the Guarantees for the independence of justice operators in which the IACHR stated that the goal of any process to select and appoint justice operators must be to select candidates based on personal merit and professional qualifications, taking into account the singular and specific nature of the duties to be performed. The Commission therefore considers essential that objective criteria and predetermined procedures are established for evaluating and weighing candidates to avoid discretion being exercised by individuals or bodies involved in the selection. In this sense, the State must establish safeguards to ensure that selection processes are not based on personal and/or partisan interests that could undermine the independence of the judicial branch[1].

The Commission believes that if certain basic parameters are not observed, the selection and appointment process might enable the authorities participating in the process to exercise an overly broad margin of discretion, with the result that the persons selected might not be suitable, which could seriously affect how they perform their future duties.

In fulfilling its mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights, and in view of the vital role played by justice operators in terms of access to justice and preservation of the rule of law, the IACHR calls on the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala to select judges for Appeals Chambers based on merit, suitability, ability, and integrity, as stipulated in Article 113 of the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala; and to observe the minimum standards established under international human rights law for ensuring judicial independence.

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

No. 108/14