IBAHRI launches report on judicial accountability and independence in Latin America

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The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) calls for greater protection from political interference for Latin American judges, and highlights the need to restore public trust in the judiciary, in its latest thematic paper A Double-Edged Sword: Judicial Independence and Accountability in Latin America. The thematic paper is being launched today at the Global Rule of Law Exchange annual conference in São Paolo, Brazil.

IBAHRI Co-Chair Ambassador (ret.) Hans Corell commented: ‘The IBAHRI is increasingly concerned by the number of governments in the Latin America region that threaten judicial independence by unduly sanctioning, removing and intimidating judges. As an example, the emblematic trial of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni in Venezuela has sent shock waves through the country’s judiciary, creating an atmosphere of fear.’ He added:‘The relationship between governments and the judiciary is a delicate balancing of powers upon which hangs the integrity of democratic rule. By highlighting the threats to this equilibrium and alleged attempts to destabilise it, this paper shows both the fine-spun complexity of the relationship and the importance of maintaining an independent and transparent judicial system.’

In the paper, the IBAHRI seeks to provide an overview of some of the ways in which judicial accountability and disciplinary processes appear to be abused in Latin America by drawing on a number of examples from across the region. In Bolivia, for example, the Chamber of Deputies brought proceedings before the Senate to demand the imprisonment of judges Gualberto Cusi Mamani, Soraida Rosario Chanez Chire and Ligia Mónica Velásquez Castaños; in Colombia, Judge Juan de Dios Solano was openly criticised by the president and has faced criminal and disciplinary proceedings due to his decision to release members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on the basis of insufficient evidence; and in Venezuela, Judge María Lourdes Afiuni has been in detention since 2009 and the victim of torture during this time.

In response to the findings, the IBAHRI puts forward four key recommendations aimed at improving the reputation of the judiciary, restoring public trust in it, and protecting it from political interference. They are to:

  • promote personal and institutional judicial integrity;
  • increase the transparency of the judiciary;
  • clarify the rules and procedures for disciplining judges; and
  • ensure the transparency and impartiality of disciplinary processes

Further, the paper argues that accountability should be a well-defined, transparent and impartial system, which, when properly implemented alongside judicial independence, forms a double-edged sword that can root out and sanction any undue governmental influence on the judiciary in addition to nepotistic and corrupt judges.

The IBAHRI continues to monitor the treatment of judges in Latin America, including the ongoing case of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni in Venezuela, and advocate for judicial independence internationally.

Click here to download A Double-Edged Sword: Judicial Independence and Accountability in Latin America.


Notes to the Editor

  1. This year’s Global Rule of Law Exchange annual conference is entitled Rule of Law challenges in Latin America: Corruption and Judicial Independence and is being held in São Paolo from 18–19 April by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law. For more information on the conference, visit tinyurl.com/zoyfw4v
  2. A Double-Edged Sword: Judicial Independence and Accountability in Latin Americais a thematic paper written by Jessica Walsh. Jessica is a non-practising solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales and specialised in international commercial dispute resolution, with a focus on arbitration proceedings. She is currently Associate Lecturer at the University of Surrey where her research focuses on judicial disciplinary procedures in Argentina.
  3. A Spanish version of this paper is due to be released in the coming months.
  4. The IBAHRI has been concerned at the deterioration of the rule of law in Venezuela for some time and, in 2014, published a report on the trial of Judge Afiuni, which it considers emblematic of the critical threats facing the Venezuelan judiciary. The IBAHRI found Judge Afiuni’s trial to be characterised by multiple due process and human rights violations. It also expressed serious concern at the ongoing deterioration of the rule of law and the administration of justice in Venezuela. Click here to read the report.
  5. The International Bar Association(IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies, it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington, DC, United States, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.


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