IBAHRI condemns judicial persecution of Guatemalan judges and prosecutors

Monday 28 March 2022

Incidents of Guatemala’s judges and prosecutors being forced to resign, dismissed, harassed, intimidated, arrested and judicially persecuted are being recorded with increased frequency. Notably, all those affected in the reports have been involved in investigating, prosecuting, and adjudicating large-scale high-level corruption and gross human rights violations. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns these purported assaults on the independence of the legal profession and the ongoing deterioration of the rule of law in the Republic of Guatemala.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, commented: ‘The IBAHRI strongly condemns the Supreme Court of Justice’s and the Attorney General’s recent actions that ostensibly target and punish legal professionals who are committed to upholding the rule of law, protecting human rights and fighting impunity. The actions of the Court and the Attorney General form part of a disturbing pattern that is in clear contravention of the United Nations Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors and the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary and must be stopped.'

Legal professionals reportedly affected by judicial persecution include judges of the Courts for High Risk Crimes (Tribunales de Mayor Riesgo), former prosecutors from Guatemala’s Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (La Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad or FECI) and former prosecutors of the now-defunct International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala or CICIG). The timeline below details numerous arrests and resignations in February 2022 alone.

  • 9 February: The Supreme Court of Justice ruled to remove the judicial immunity of Judge Pablo Xitumul. The Court also issued instructions to proceed with impeachment proceedings against Judge Erika Aifán.
  • 10 February: Former CICIG president, Leily Santizo, was arrested on charges of obstructing justice. Her arrest was reportedly connected to her work as defence counsel for legal professionals known for their independent views.
  • 15 February: Former FECI prosecutor, Eva Siomara Sosa, was arrested.
  • 16 February: The Guatemalan Prosecutor’s Office secured arrest warrants for lawyers Aliss Morán, Paola Escobar, Rudy Herrera and Willy Racanac López. Escobar and López were arrested on the same day for alleged abuse of authority.
  • 17 February: Aliss Morán was arrested after presenting herself voluntarily.
  • 21 February: Three FECI assistant prosecutors resigned: Lorenzo Bolaños, Gilma Guerra and Masell Pérez.
  • 23 February: Virginia Laparra, Head of the FECI headquarters in Quetzaltenango, was arrested on charges of providing false testimony, abuse of authority and encroachment of functions. Darwin Zepeda, FECI assistant prosecutor, resigned for fear of being prosecuted.
  • Also in February: FECI prosecutors Rudy Herrera and Carlos Antonio Videz resigned and left Guatemala.

IBAHRI Co-Chair Mark Stephens CBE stated: ‘Article 203 of the Guatemalan Constitution provides that "magistrates and judges are independent in the exercise of their functions and are subjected solely to the Constitution of the Republic and to the laws". Guatemala has an obligation to respect its own Constitution, and to protect and fulfil judicial independence under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights. We stand in solidarity with any targeted legal professionals and human rights defenders in Guatemala and call on the international community to hold Guatemala to account.’

Regarding the past two years, on 23 July 2021, the Public Prosecutor issued an order dismissing the Special Prosecutor against Impunity (Head of the FECI) Juan Francisco Sandoval – an act that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held to be ‘apparently arbitrary and illegal’. In April 2021, the Guatemalan Congress refused to swear Judge Gloria Porras into the Constitutional Court. In 2020, the Congress moved to charge several Constitutional Court magistrates for crimes punishable by up to ten years in prison after the Court ruled that the Congress should ensure that its process for selecting high court judges meets basic requirements.

In September 2021, the United States added Guatemala’s Attorney-General Consuelo Porras to its Undemocratic and Corrupt Actors List for obstructing corruption investigations by interfering with criminal investigations. As protests of corruption mount against Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei, Attorney-General Porras seems to have intensified the crackdown on prosecutors investigating graft at the highest level. Attorney-General Porras is seeking re-election in May 2022, when Guatemala’s president will appoint a new attorney-general from a list of nominees selected by the Supreme Court president among others.

Last week, on 21 March, Erika Aifán, judge of Guatemala's high risk court, announced her resignation and decision to leave the country as she reported facing at least 20 legal complaints for ‘overstepping’ in an investigation into alleged irregularities during President Alejandro Giammattei’s campaign.


Notes to the Editor

  1. Related material:
  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working 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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  4. The  International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.​​​​​​​

For further information, please contact: the IBA Human Rights Institute at IBAHRI@int-bar.org

Website page link for this news release:
Short link: https://tinyurl.com/2p937jxf

Full link: https://www.ibanet.org/IBAHRI-condemns-judicial-persecution-of-Guatemalan-judges-and-prosecutors