Press Release

IACHR Urges Threats to the Independence of Constitutional Court Judges in Guatemala to Cease

August 14, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - In response to the pretrial proceedings against Constitutional Court judges in Guatemala, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges the state to put an end to actions that are allegedly jeopardizing the independence of judicial personnel in the country.

According to publicly available information, on August 7, the Public Prosecutor’s Office (link in Spanish) moved to file new pretrial motions against the following Constitutional Court judges through the Administrative Crime Prosecutor’s Office: Bonerge Amílcar Mejía Orellana, Gloria Patricia Porras Escobar de Pacheco, José Francisco De Mata Vela, María Cristina Fernández García, José Mynor Par Usen, and Neftalí Aldana Herrera. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office itself, these motions were filed regarding possible crimes that included violating the constitution, sentences that violated the constitution, breach of duty, influence peddling, illicit association, disclosure of confidential or classified information, and breach of trust. The judges allegedly did so by “issuing a ruling on a matter in which they were involved.”

However, the IACHR noted that these proceedings have taken place at a time in which judicial personnel in Guatemala have been repeatedly subjected to attacks and interference, a situation which has worsened in recent years. Indeed, since publishing its Country Report in 2017, the IACHR has spoken out against the accusations, defamation, attacks, pressure, and interference that Constitutional Court judges have experienced as they go about their duties. In response to this, on August 29, 2017, the IACHR decided to request the adoption of precautionary measures in favor of Judge Gloria Patricia Porras Escobar. On October 25, 2019, it then issued Resolution 56/2019 granting of precautionary measures in favor of Constitutional Court judges José Francisco de Mata Vela, Bonerge Amílcar Mejía Orellana, José Mynor Par Usen, and María Cristina Fernández, who are mentioned in the new request for a pretrial hearing.

Likewise, on June 30, 2020, the IACHR expressed its concern over the pretrial proceedings against certain Constitutional Court judges due to the fact that their rulings regarding the process for electing judges to the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice and Chambers of Appeals allegedly ran counter to the Guatemalan Constitution. In this regard, the IACHR reiterated to the State of Guatemala that “international law prohibits using the legal opinions or criteria of judicial personnel issued in a ruling in the course of exercising their jurisdictional functions as grounds for disciplinary action or, in this case, a pretrial hearing.” As a consequence, one of the issues that must be taken into account in rulings that sanction judicial personnel is that in no case can disciplinary investigations and sanctions be prompted by legal opinions they may issue in any of their rulings.

The IACHR notes 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 or attacks that directly target them or their families, the exercise of judicial authority could be seriously jeopardized, which would thwart effective access to justice.

In response, the IACHR urges the State of Guatemala to put an end to all actions that severely threaten the independence of Constitutional Court judges, abstain from instigating pretrial proceedings in response to the legal opinions of judicial personnel, and take steps to guarantee compliance with the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR.

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. 199/20