Guatemala: judicial independence under attack

The ICJ is deeply concerned about the recent attacks against Judge Erika Aifán that put judicial independence in Guatemala at imminent risk. Judge Aifán has always been upright and honest in her rulings, which she bases on sound principles of the rule of law.

Ramon Cadena, Director of the Central American office of the ICJ stated today: “We must support Judge Aifán because the guarantee of judicial independence is under serious threat.”

“Judge Aifán is an honest and brave Judge presiding over emblematic cases, which could be put in jeopardy if the legal actions against her proceed,” he said.

“It is totally unacceptable that a Court imposes a fine against a professional carrying out their duty. The Judges of the Third Court who imposed this fine should be investigated by the Public Ministry on account of their actions, which constitute an attack on judicial independence,” he added.

The ICJ firmly believes that the independence of judges is essential to uphold the rule of law so that public officials can effectively guarantee access to justice for victims of human rights violations.

The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) has established that “the independence of the judicial power has been recognized as a general principle of law and enshrined in many international treaties”.

For that reason, and with reference to the Guatemalan Constitution and international human rights standards, the ICJ considers that the Guatemalan Supreme Court should take an active role in the defence of judicial independence and in this specific case concerning Judge Aifán.

The ICJ also urges the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers to visit the country.

The ICJ also considers that the Guatemalan Prosecutor for Human Rights should submit the case to the IACHR so that that Commission can grant preventive measures to Judge Aifán and investigate this flagrant violation of judicial independence.

The ICJ also requests that the IACHR intervenes in the present situation.

The ICJ considers that the motives for the attacks against Judge Aifán are because she is currently presiding over emblematic cases in the fight against impunity and corruption.

Groups who are interested in maintaining a situation of impunity wish to see her removed from her position.

The ICJ recalls that a judge can only be removed from office for reasons established by law, following a disciplinary process that complies with the basic guarantees of a fair trial; or when a judicial officer has completed the term of their mandate.

Neither of these conditions is met in the case of Judge Aifán. Therefore, the ICJ can only conclude that the attacks against her are attacks on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary as a whole.

It is self-evident that the independence of every judicial body is indispensable for the fulfilment of fair trial standards without which the right of access to justice is undermined.

Furthermore, without judicial independence, people lack confidence in the courts or are fearful and therefore refrain from taking cases to justice.

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