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Europe Must Not Abandon Central America In Battle Against Corruption, Crime, Impunity.

The Hague, 11 October 2021: Collective European action is urgently needed to help Central American countries like Guatemala tackle growing impunity, corruption and organised transnational crime, prominent Guatemalan justice activists have said.

 

The four activists, exiled from Guatemala for their anti-corruption work, are currently meeting European politicians from The Hague, Brussels and Geneva (11-15 October), amidst high-profile cases of expulsions of activists from Guatemalan justice institutions.

Anti-corruption prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval, whose sacking from the Guatemalan Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) in July sparked international outrage, said:

“Working against impunity in Guatemala is a total war. People are working against conditions of intimidation. I fear for the safety of my colleagues who remain in Guatemala.”

For her part, former attorney general Thelma Aldana, whose 2019 presidential candidacy was obstructed in retaliation for her anti-corruption work, added:

“The Guatemalan mafia are waging a campaign of disinformation and criminalisation against anyone who challenges them, appropriating the law to be able to act with impunity. It is paramount for those of us outside Guatemala to speak up.”

The group of activists, who also include former Public Prosecutor Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey and Constitutional Court Judge Gloria Porras, are calling on Europe to follow the example of the Biden Administration and impose sanctions on Guatemalan individuals linked to serious crime and corruption, support anti-corruption efforts, support judicial systems and provide protection for threatened justice activists.

The meetings are supported by the Dutch Embassy in Costa Rica and organised by human rights organisation Impunity Watch.

Impunity Watch founder Marlies Stappers said:

Recent developments in Central America, particularly in Guatemala, are deeply alarming. The dismantling of the rule of law, the criminalisation of the legal system and increased violence linked to organised crime are threatening to undo everything we achieved with international support to strengthen the justice system. After moving towards democratic rule of law, countries like Guatemala are becoming rogue states, where crime is the norm.

“Having supported the Guatemalan justice system for years, European leaders must now take urgent collective action to prevent Guatemala and the region from becoming a hotbed of transnational organised crime and drug trafficking. Without this support, international drug cartels will have even more freedom to act with impunity. A just and democratic Central America is not only crucial for stability in the region, but for Europe and the world.”

Twenty-five years after the end of the civil war and the signing of peace accords in Guatemala, independent justice leaders are facing trumped up charges, threats and are being forced to flee. Meanwhile, Europe is becoming an important market for the illegal drug trade from the Central American region.

 

Stappers concluded:

 

“Europe cannot let down those it has empowered in the past and turn its back to them, like it did in the case of Afghanistan. It is not too late to take action and protect the rule of law and those who fought to protect it.”

ENDS

 

Notes for editors

Guatemalan justice leaders are available for interviews in Spanish or English (with an interpreter):

  1. Claudia Paz y Paz was head of the Public Prosecutor’s Office (2010-2014) and brought former dictator Ríos Montt to the dock for the genocide of the Maya Ixil people. She is a recognised Human Rights lawyer and is currently the executive director of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) in Costa Rica, litigating cases of human rights violations before the Inter-American Human Rights System. She has also formed part of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) that led investigations into the disappearances of students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico and protest-related violence in Nicaragua. She therefore has a broad and thorough understanding of the situation in Central America. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claudia_Paz_y_Paz

  2. Gloria Porras was a judge of the Constitutional Court for two consecutive periods (2011-2016 and 2016-2021), was secretary of the Public Prosecutor's Office (2008-2010) and worked at the Institute of Public Criminal Défense. She is recognized for her judicial independence and her rulings in favour of the CICIG and the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. In March 2021, she was elected for a new term in the Constitutional Court, but Congress (composed mainly of corrupt parties) obstructed her swearing in and she had to leave the country for fear of being unjustly persecuted. https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloria_Patricia_Porras

  3. Thelma Aldana is a renowned Guatemalan jurist. She was a judge and President of the Supreme Court (2011-2012) and Public Prosecutor and Head of the Public Ministry (2014 -2018), during this time, she worked with CICIG and led high-level investigations about corruption against powerful officials and businessmen, including President Otto Pérez Molina. In 2018 received the Right Livelihood Award for her work against corruption in Guatemala.  In 2019 she decided to run for President, but her candidacy was obstructed by the Supreme Electoral Court in retaliation for her anti-corruption work. Since 2019, she has been in exile in the United States due to political persecution. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thelma_Aldana

  4. Juan Francisco Sandoval is a prosecutor who was head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), who was dismissed on non-legal grounds on 23 July 2021, sparking national and international outrage. The FECI investigated dozens of corruption cases which involved high-level officials, some of them related to President Giammattei. Sandoval was honoured by the Biden Administration as an Anticorruption Champion in February 2021. His dismissal led to immediate mass protests in Guatemala and public United States criticism. https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Francisco_Sandoval

Media contacts:

For more information or to arrange media interviews, please contact Deniz Duzenli, Communications Manager at Impunity Watch.

 

About Impunity Watch

Impunity Watch is a human rights organisation seeking to promote accountability for past atrocities and to strengthen the involvement of victims and the most marginalised in justice processes. We started working in Guatemala in 2004 to support local human rights activists in claiming redress after the civil war.  https://www.impunitywatch.org/

The meetings are supported by the Dutch Embassy in Costa Rica and organised by human rights organisation Impunity Watch.