Peru: IACHR expresses concern over investigation against National Justice Board and calls for due process

September 25, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses concern about the opening by Congress of a summary investigation against the National Board of the Judiciary, an autonomous agency that is key to preserve the independence and suitability of the judiciary and electoral authorities in the country.

On September 7, 2023, Congress passed Motion 7565, mandating the Justice and Human Rights Committee to conduct a summary investigation into the activities of members of the National Board of the Judiciary. The Committee was tasked with filing a report on the issue within 14 working days, following which Congress could move to dismiss members of the Board. 

The State said that this investigation had been launched for the following reasons: the fact that the Board expressed its views concerning pretrial and impeachment proceedings against former attorney general Zoraida Ávalos Rivera; a complaint for alleged interference with the activities of members of the Criminal Law Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, asking them to favor former attorney general Zoraida Ávalos Rivera; the Board's interpretation of paragraph 3 in Article 156 of Peru's Political Constitution; non-compliance by the Board with its constitutional duties and with Peru's Constitutional Law on the National Board of the Judiciary, for failing to submit an annual report to the Peruvian Congress; leaking disciplinary proceedings against former attorney general Zoraida Ávalos Rivera.

Further, the State noted that, based on the principle of the separation of powers and check and balances, the Congress is the authority competent to investigate and dismiss members of the National Board of the Judiciary and has a plan to that effect. The State also said that these political oversight powers are held in the country's constitution and reflect opportunity and convenience criteria rather than an actual jurisdiction.

Civil society organizations and judicial officers, on the other hand, said that the ongoing proceeding would not be based on a specific disciplinary cause provided by the legal system. The events that led to the launch of this investigation are reportedly being addressed by other Congressional committees in the framework of a constitutional accusation.

The IACHR considers that the judiciary plays a leading role to ensure the judicial protection of human rights in a democratic State, since it acts as the controller of the conventionality, constitutionality, and legality of the actions of the other branches of government. The existence of various agencies to manage and lead justice institutions helps to reduce and overcome the risk of interference by other branches of government.

The actions of the National Board of the Judiciary—the institution in charge of appointing and periodically assessing the work of judicial officers and electoral authorities in Peru—help to prevent political interference by other State institutions in the appointment of judicial officers. The Board's actions are therefore instrumental for the justice system to operate independently.

The IACHR acknowledges that political oversight by a branch of government over another is important in a system of checks and balances. However, the IACHR warns that political oversight of the activities of judicial officers based on discretionary or political criteria violates the independence and impartiality that are required of all disciplinary proceedings, in compliance with international law.

All procedures that may lead to the dismissal of judicial officers must be based on the legality principle and reflect due process. This requires that punishable conduct be pre-established in strict, explicit terms that clearly describes the actions that may be punished and their components. It further requires that judicial officers be judged by an authority of competent jurisdiction that is independent and impartial, in proceedings that always enable the right to a defense.

The Commission notes that a potential dismissal of members of the National Board of the Judiciary that fails to respect due process and the legality principle would have a significant impact on this institution and weaken judicial independence in Peru.

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. 222/23

10:30 AM