IACHR Expresses Concern over New Violations of Judicial Independence in Guatemala

February 22, 2022

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over recent acts of criminalization and judicial persecution targeting judicial personnel and former members of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). The IACHR urged the State of Guatemala to guarantee an independent, impartial justice system and to protect judicial personnel.

The IACHR has continued to receive information 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 CICIG in Guatemala.

According to public information, on February 16, the Public Prosecutor's Office arrested Willy Racanac López and Paola Mishelle Escobar Quiñónez, assistant prosecutors at the Special Prosecutor's Office Against Impunity (FECI) for the alleged crime of abuse of authority. An arrest warrant was also issued for Rudy Antonio Herrera Lemus, a former prosecutor at the FECI, and Aliss Noemí Moran, a former assistant prosecutor there. All four of these individuals were involved in investigations around the Parallel Commissions 2020 case.

On February 15, another former prosecutor at FECI, Eva Siomara Sosa was arrested after voluntarily appearing before the Third Criminal Court after learning that there was a warrant for her arrest. On February 10, it was reported that the former head of the CICIG, Leily Santizo, had been arrested. According to public information, Ms. Sosa and Ms. Santizo are being detained without an initial hearing having taken place to date. According to the information provided, the investigations were a reprisal for their work.

Both Ms. Sosa and Ms. Santizo led high-impact anticorruption cases while the CICIG was in operation. Ms. Santizo's arrest is also related to the work she is currently engaged in as a defender of judicial personnel who are known for the independence of their work. The information available indicates that the two prosecutors were not informed of the accusations against them, as the file was kept confidential.

On February 9, the IACHR also learned that the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) had ruled to declare a request for the impeachment of Judge Pablo Xitumul de Paz admissible and strip him of his judicial immunity. The CSJ also issued instructions to proceed with impeachment proceedings against Judge Erika Aifán. Both were beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR.

Although impeachment is a constitutional guarantee that benefits judicial personnel by ensuring that they are not unduly subjected to criminal proceedings, the IACHR has observed that this procedure is being used in Guatemala as a mechanism to intimidate, threaten, and/or eventually remove such personnel from their positions.

The IACHR reminded the State of its duty to protect those who work in the field of justice from attacks, intimidation, threats, and harassment by investigating those who violate their rights and sanctioning 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.

The IACHR is concerned by the fact that these events are taking place in a context of severe setbacks in the fight against impunity and corruption in Guatemala. In response, the State must take immediate action to assert the importance of the fight against corruption.

The IACHR urged Guatemala to take measures to prevent the improper use of criminal law and impeachment proceedings as a way to restrict judicial personnel from operating independently. It also called for the cessation of any interference with the independence of the Judiciary to guarantee an independent, impartial judicial system as befits a State governed by the rule of law.

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 and to defend 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. 037/22

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