Reacting to the Bolivian Senate’s “judgment” removing Constitutional Court judge Soraida Rosario Chanez Chire from office, the ICJ condemned the proceedings as fundamentally flawed and in violation of international standards for the independence of judges.
The ICJ also regretted the resignation earlier this week of a second judge, Ligia Mónica Velásquez Castaños, apparently to avoid a similar injustice.
Proceedings against a third judge, Gualberto Cusi Mamani, remain suspended for health reasons.
“It is fundamental to the independence of the judiciary, and the rule of law, that judges must be able to decide cases without fear of punishment for their legal opinions and rulings, including those that the government or legislature may not like,” said Matt Pollard, Head of the Centre for Independence of Judges and Lawyers at the ICJ.
“The stated reason for pursuing these three judges – disagreement with the content of their legal opinion and ruling – is not a valid basis, and their removal and coerced resignation is a direct assault on the principle of independence of the judiciary,” he added.
In October, the ICJ sent an open letter and analysis brief to members of the Legislative Assembly, explaining why the proceedings violate international law and standards, urging that proceedings against the three judges immediately be ended, and recommending a process of longer-term reform of judicial accountability processes in Bolivia.
The ICJ reiterated its concerns in December, in the context of the rushed and insufficient reforms to its procedures then being enacted by the Legislative Assembly.
Judge Chanez is entitled to appeal the decision to the Legislative Assembly as a whole within the next 15 days.
However, the appeal process is also inherently flawed and the proceeding remains essentially political rather than juridical in character.
Indeed, the Chamber of Deputies itself acted as “prosecutor” before the Senate and originally sought a ten-year prison sentence for each judge.
Bolivian Vice-President Álvaro García Linera, who is also President of the Legislative Assembly, has also made highly prejudicial statements in the media during the proceedings.
The Senate also decided to refer Judge Chanez for possible criminal prosecution, rendering the process even more abusive.
Matt Pollard, Head of the Centre for Independence of Judges and Lawyers at the ICJ, t: +41 79 246 54 75; e: matt.pollard(a)icj.org
Bolivia-Removal of judges-News-Press release-2015-SPA (Full text in Spanish, PDF)