Guatemala must ensure independent justice system in fight against corruption, say UN rights experts

GENEVA, February 11, 2019 – The protection of human rights in Guatemala and an independent judiciary must be put at the centre of efforts by the State to combat impunity and corruption, say a group of UN rights experts*.

“There have been allegations of intimidation and threats against magistrates, judges and prosecutors. We are extremely concerned that these persons and their families could be at risk. This could affect their safety, integrity, right to privacy and reputation, and could have an impact on their independence,” the experts said.

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Their concern follows a decision by the Guatemalan Government to end unilaterally an agreement with the UN, which created the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). On 9 January 2019, the Constitutional Court granted an injunction (“amparo”) that suspended the Government’s decision to withdraw from the agreement with the UN on the Commission, but measures to terminate the work of CICIG proceeded nonetheless.  Furthermore, the Government’s declarations that it would not abide by the resolutions of the Constitutional Court contribute to the weakening of the rule of law in the country.

“This situation had reportedly led to the intensification of intimidation and threats against the magistrates of the Constitutional Court. A similar pattern of intimidation is being reported against those judicial actors who, due to the nature of their work, have cooperated closely with CICIG in investigation and prosecution of emblematic cases of corruption.“

“Tackling these issues is of the utmost importance for the protection of economic, social and cultural rights, especially as corruption and impunity often deepen existing inequalities, and particularly affect people living in poverty, the majority of whom are indigenous peoples” the experts added.

“Constitutional review mechanisms are vital to securing the protection of human rights and the rule of law. Guaranteeing an independent judiciary and respecting its independence as well as ensuring an impartial system are essential. These are also key in consolidating efforts to combat corruption and impunity,” the experts emphasized.

The CICIG has also provided the Office of the General Prosecutor and other institutions with technical assistance, and the work already accomplished by national judicial actors and CICIG must not be jeopardized, the Independent Experts emphasized.

“We are specifically concerned about the situation of those working in the justice system, in particular judges and prosecutors who have collaborated with the CICIG and are working on high profile cases, particularly those related to alleged corruption, organized crime and illicit financial flows involving powerful people. It is imperative that judges and prosecutors be provided with effective protection in order for them to exercise their functions.

Situation of national staff of the CICIG, police officers assigned to support CICIG’s functions, as well as victims, witnesses, and other actors involved in the work and processes related to the fight against impunity and corruption is also of great concern,” they added.

“Investigations and prosecutions of such high-level cases must continue and we urge the Guatemalan authorities to ensure the smooth functioning of the institutions concerned so that they are able to resolve cases without any interference, threat or intimidation.”

The experts added: “Corruption and illicit financial flows drain considerable amounts of money from the public purse. This expenditure directly affects the State’s ability to ensure full realisation of economic, social and cultural rights for all Guatemalans.”

The UN experts have already been in contact with the Government of Guatemala to express their concerns.

(*) The UN experts: Mr. Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, and Mr. Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers