The Colombian Commission of Jurists, an affiliate of the ICJ, made an oral statement to the UN Human Rights Council today, addressing threats to the independence of the judiciary in Bolivia.
The statement came in the discusson of Bolivia’s review by the Council universal periodic review procedure, in which Bolivia accepted recommendations on judicial independence, including to “guarantee the full independence of the judiciary system, in accordance with…international standards.”
In response, the ICJ and Colombian Commission of Jurists highlighted the disciplinary and criminal proceedings brought by the Legislative Assembly against three judges of the Constitutional Court at the end of last year. The proceedings were based solely on the disagreement of the political branches with an interim order issued by the Court in a case challenging the constitutionality of a new law to regulate notaries.
In the so-called “trial” conducted by the Legislative Assembly in December, Assembly Members’ statements demonstrated a manifest lack of impartiality. The Assembly extensively and arbitrarily limited the rights of the judges to present evidence and witnesses in their defence.
In the result, one judge was arbitrarily removed from office in January, and another resigned under the pressure. The Assembly also referred both of these women for criminal prosecution. Proceedings against a third judge were suspended only for health reasons.
As the Government had announced that it will seek radical reform of the judicial system during 2015. In light of recent events, the two organisations asked:
- How will Bolivia ensure that reforms are consistent with universal and regional standards on the role and independence of the judiciary?
- What role will Bolivian and international civil society and legal experts have in developing the reforms?
- Will reforms ensure a judicial selection procedure that is based on objective criteria and truly independent of the executive and legislative branches of government?
- Will consideration be given to transferring responsibility for discipline and removal procedures to a new independent and impartial body, with real guarantees of fairness, and clearly defined grounds for removal that exclude disagreement with rulings?
Ireland had also raised concern about independence and effectiveness of the judiciary in its oral statement.
The delegation of Bolivia mentioned in its opening statement its intention to convene a forum on judical reforms and put reforms to a referendum, but did not provie any details other than that various sectors of Bolivian society would be involved. During the opportunity given at the end of the session to respond to the questions from states and NGOs, the delegation of Bolivia chose not to address these issues.
Read also Bolivia: ICJ condemns removal and forced resignation of Constitutional Court judges by Legislative Assembly and links therein.
The full written statement may be downloaded in PDF format here: Bolivia-HRC28-UPR-Advocacy-non legal submission-2015-ENGNon-legal submissions