July 03, 2020

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez statement Re: Guatemalan judiciary

WASHINGTON, July 3, 2020 – The American Bar Association is concerned by the Congress of Guatemala’s use of criminal proceedings against members of the Guatemalan Constitutional Court to resolve a dispute between the two branches of government. 

The dispute concerns a directive from the Constitutional Court to the Congress to review allegations of corruption in the process for selecting Supreme Court judges. In response to the directive, a private citizen requested permission from the Supreme Court to lift the immunity from against criminal proceedings of four Constitutional Court magistrates—Gloria Porras, Neftaly Aldana, José de Mata Vela, and Bonerge Mejia—arguing that they had exceeded their authority in calling for the review. The Constitutional Court in turn issued a provisional ruling that the Supreme Court’s decision was unconstitutional. 

The Supreme Court granted the request by the private citizen after rushed proceedings that were reportedly marred by significant irregularities. This allowed Congress to bring charges against the four constitutional court magistrates. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that the Supreme Court’s decision conflicted with Guatemala’s obligation to respect judicial independence, finding that the “State must refrain from promoting impeachment proceedings based on the mere legal judgment of the magistrates of the Constitutional Court.” 

The ABA Center for Human Rights has been monitoring the selection of Supreme Court magistrates in Guatemala and has documented a consistent pattern of corruption. As a State party to the American Convention on Human Rights, Guatemala through its Congress is required to uphold the independence of the judiciary by, among other actions, protecting judicial personnel from threats, including spurious criminal accusations by the Congress itself. 

Under Guatemala’s Constitution, the responsibility to determine the Constitutional Court’s jurisdiction to direct the congress to undertake the review of corruption allegations rests solely with that Court. The present controversy therefore puts in jeopardy not only the authority of individual judges, but the power of the judiciary itself. The doctrine of necessity required the Constitutional Court to rule on the question of lifting the magistrates’ immunity. Allegations that the magistrates should have recused themselves from consideration of the constitutional challenge to the Supreme Court decision are therefore misguided because alternates were not available and the doctrine of necessity required a determination on the matter by the Constitutional Court. 

The ABA calls on the Congress of Guatemala to abide by the order of the Constitutional Court to investigate allegations of corruption in the Supreme Court selection process and to dispense with attempts to resolve disputes about any court’s jurisdiction through criminal proceedings. 

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