In Guatemala, the independence and impartiality of the judiciary is severely threatened by the increasing politicization of the justice system and, in particular, of the members of the Constitutional Court.
This was demonstrated by its controversial July 2003 ruling, allowing former head of state General Efrain Ríos Montt to stand for the presidency. Cases of corruption and political interference by means of intimidation, budgetary policy and removal from office further undermine the principle of impartiality in the administration of justice.
The role of the Supreme Court in administering the judiciary and the lack of transparency in its evaluation and disciplinary mechanisms, compromises the judiciary’s internal independence. President Berger’s removal of Prosecutor General de Léon in March 2004 was perceived to be part of a campaign to purge the Prosecutor’s Office. The functioning of the under-resourced and poorly-trained prosecution service is further undermined by internal interference.
The creation of the UN-backed Commission for the Investigation of Illegal Bodies and Clandestine Security Apparatus has been blocked since August 2004 when the Constitutional Court ruled that the agreement with the UN was unconstitutional. Prosecutors, judges and lawyers cannot exercise their profession free from threats and intimidation.
There has been virtually no progress in ensuring accountability for past human rights abuses. Government payments to civil defence patrols (PAC), a former paramilitary group, have brought the authorities into serious conflict with victims’ relatives. A decree has extended the powers of Justices of the Peace so that access to the courts for the rural population is improved.
The functioning of the Public Penal Defense Institute is under threat due to lack of funding. Over the past two years, bilingual judicial staff have been recruited in order to promote access to justice for indigenous communities.
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