Threats to independence of judiciary in Guatemala

Who we wrote to

The president of the Republic of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales.

We co-wrote the letter with:

  • the Bar Council of England and Wales
  • the Law Society of Northern Ireland
  • the Law Society of Scotland
  • the Bar of Ireland
  • the Law Society of Ireland

What’s the issue

We’re concerned about recent developments in Guatemala that threaten the independence of the judiciary, the fight against corruption and the rule of law.

The Commission against Corruption and Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has been instrumental in tackling corruption and strengthening the rule of law in Guatemala with support from the United Nations.

Actions taken against the CICIG and its commissioner, Mr Iván Velásquez, highlight a significant deterioration of the situation in Guatemala. Mr Velásquez was ordered to leave Guatemala immediately in August 2017, before the Constitutional Court granted an interim measure to allow him to stay in the country.

Judicial measures and other actions have been taken against the judges who voted in favour of the interim measures granting leave to remain. Twenty applications have been made against judges of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Justice in Guatemala. These are likely a consequence of the Supreme Court’s admission of applications that challenge corruption at the highest level of government.

Proposed legal reforms would pose a serious threat to the independence of the judiciary by effectively giving the legislature the power to remove judges.

We understand that further reforms regarding the removal of immunity of the president and Constitutional Court judges have also been proposed.

What we asked for

We support the independence of the judiciary in Guatemala and the need to respect the separation of powers.

We urged the Guatemalan authorities to:

  • end the judicial harassment and other measures taken against judges of the Constitutional Court and other Guatemalan courts
  • refrain from making public statements that reflect negatively on individual judges or put into question decisions made by the Constitutional Court or other courts
  • follow international standards regarding the suspension, re-assignment and removal of judges in any disciplinary or other proceedings brought
  • respect the independence of the judiciary and make sure that other members of the legal profession can carry out their professional duties without hindrance and improper interference
  • renew the CIGIG’s mandate and to allow its commissioner to continue carrying out his functions without interference

Timeline

27 August 2017 – Mr Velásquez was declared persona non grata and ordered to immediately leave the country. The Constitutional Court provisionally granted a measure to allow Mr Velásquez to stay in the country

29 August 2017 – an application was made against the judges who voted in favour of the interim measure granting Mr Velásquez leave to remain in Guatemala

August 2018 – the Guatemalan government informed the UN secretary general that it would not request an extension of the CIGIG’s mandate, which expires in September 2019

September 2018 – an order was issued to prevent Mr Velásquez from re-entering Guatemala after travelling to the US