Press Release

IACHR expresses concern for impeachment proceedings against four judges of the Guatemalan Constitutional Court

June 30, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern for the impeachment proceedings against four judges of the Guatemalan Constitutional Court and calls on the State to guarantee the independence of the judges in the country.

According to available information, on June 26 the Supreme Court of Justice of Guatemala admitted and ordered the referral to the Congress, of the impeachment proceedings against four judges of the Constitutional Court: Gloria Porras, Bonerge Mejía, Francisco de Mata Vela and Neftaly Aldana. Such proceedings would seek to eliminate the legal protection of judicial immunity that the jurisdictional function of these judges has. The impeachment proceedings have been based on the alleged reasoning contrary to the Guatemalan Constitution issued in its resolutions by the aforementioned judges, within the context of the process of electing judges of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Appeals Rooms of the Judicial Power in Guatemala. The IACHR takes note of the provisional protection granted by the Constitutional Court on June 27, which has suspended the impeachment proceedings.

The Commission has established, in accordance with the Guarantees for the Independence of Justice Operators published in 2013, that the validity of rights and freedoms in a democratic system requires a legal and institutional order in which the laws prevail over the will of the rulers and the individuals, and in which there is an effective judicial control of the constitutionality and legality of the acts of the public power. For this reason, unlike other public officials, judges enjoy reinforced guarantees for the development of their jurisdictional function, especially the guarantee of independence in the exercise of their functions. This guarantee serves as a corollary of the right of access to justice that assists all people and is embodied in an adequate appointment process, immobility in office and the guarantee against pressure from the judges.

The Inter-American Human Rights System has reiterated the importance of applying the Basic Principles of the United Nations regarding the independence of the judiciary. According to these, the judges will resolve the matters they know “based on the facts and in accordance with the law, without any restriction and without influences, incentives, pressure, threats or undue interference, whether direct or indirect, from any sector or for any reason.” (Principle 2). In addition, the Principles establish that “[n]o undue or unjustified interference in the judicial process will take place” (Principle 4). In this sense, the IACHR reminds the State of Guatemala that the guarantee of independence, in addition to being established in the regulatory framework through the recognition of the principle of separation of powers, must be manifested in practice, among other ways, through respect of the independence of the magistrates in their deliberation, decision and general functioning processes of the Judiciary. For its part, the Government of Guatemala reaffirmed to the IACHR the importance of the independence of the powers of the State.

In addition, the IACHR recalls that the guarantee of independence of the judges has a double dimension: one institutional and the other functional. In the institutional dimension, the Commission indicates that the Guatemalan State must promote enough measures to allow the justice institute or entities not to be subjected to abuse or undue restrictions by other powers or State institutions. On the other hand, within the functional dimension or the individual exercise of the judicial power, the State must guarantee that each judge can freely exercise his tasks within the justice entities in the knowledge of the cases that, taking into account their role specific, it is up to them to decide.

Within the context of the impeachment process described, the Inter-American Commission reiterates to the State of Guatemala that it is prohibited by international law to establish as disciplinary cause or, in this case, of impeachment, actions related to the trial or legal criteria that judges develop in a judgement, within the exercise of their jurisdictional function. Therefore, the Commission reiterates that one of the essential aspects to consider in judgements establishing sanctions for judges is that the investigations and disciplinary sanctions that are imposed in no case may be motivated in the legal judgment that would have been developed in one of its judgements. Therefore, the Guatemalan State must refrain from promoting impeachment proceedings based on the mere legal judgment of the magistrates of the Constitutional Court.

Lastly, the IACHR observes that the impeachment proceedings are added to a series of threats, harassment, pressure and reprisals against judges as a consequence of certain judicial decisions with high importance within the Guatemalan context. That is why the Inter-American Commission has already granted precautionary measures to the judges Bonerge Mejía, Francisco de Mata Vela and Gloria Porras, three of the four magistrates against whom the impeachment process described in this press release has been promoted. Based on Article 25 of its Statute, the Commission requested the State of Guatemala to adopt the necessary measures to, on the one hand, protect the rights to life and personal integrity of the beneficiary magistrates, and, on the other, to guarantee that they can carry out their duties as magistrates without being subjected to threats, harassment or intimidation in the exercise of their functions. The IACHR reiterates that it is up to each State to protect judges from attacks, acts of intimidation, threats and harassment, investigating those who commit violations of their rights and effectively punishing them. If States do not guarantee the security of their judges against all kinds of pressure, including reprisals directly aimed at attacking their person and family, the exercise of the judicial function may be seriously affected, frustrating access to effective justice.

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. 156/20