Photo by Rafael Urdaneta Rojas / Pixabay

Appointing indigenous women in Guatemala’s judiciary enhances access to justice for women victims and helps protect human rights

Impunity Watch, he Alliance of women and indigenous women for access to justice in Guatemala, (AMMI), the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) and the Washington Office for Latin American Affairs (WOLA) hosted a webinar on 11 June 2020 via Zoom to discuss the participation of women in the upcoming appointments at the Appeals and Supreme Courts in Guatemala. The webinar contributed to the debate on the role of women and indigenous women in justice, and called for their appointment in these courts.

More than 140 participants joined the webinar and speakers included Supreme Court Magistrate Delia Davila, High Risk Court Judge Jeannette Valdés, Mayan k'iche lawyer Jovita Tzul, Ursula Indacochea from DPLF, Teresa Macario and Linsleyd Tillit from AMMI. Brisna Caxaj from Impunity Watch Guatemala moderated the discussion.

In her intervention, Magistrate Dávila emphasised that women should be appointed in judiciary and decision-making positions in order to facilitate the access to justice for women victimof violence. She noted that women are the ones who mainly resort to courts, given that 53,000 complaints to the Prosecutor’s Office and 16,000 criminal proceedings pertain to violence against women.

The justice system in Guatemala still faces major challenges in terms of genderequality, according to Magistrate Dávila. Although women occupy 42 per cent of lower-level judiciary positions, only 37 per cent of appeals court judges are women, and an even lower 14 per cent attain the presidency of their respective courts, she added. Historically, the judicial power in Guatemala has been dominated by men. It was until 1960 that the first female judge was appointed, and until 2005 that the first female Supreme Court Justices were appointed. Only three out of 60 presidencies of the judicial power have been adjudged to female magistrates.

Judge Valdés said that the presence of

female judges in courts enhances the

trust of women victims in the judiciary. It

is necessary to break gender stereotypes

and to create awareness on the leading

role of women in justice administration,

she said, noting that judicial appointments

should be purely merit-based.

Lawyer Tzul noted that the exclusion

system in Guatemala and the serious

shortages and corruption in the judicial

appointment process are main obstacles

preventing indigenous women from

pursuing a judicial career. She explained that the Nomination Commissions do not take into consideration the particular situation of indigenous professionals when setting the profiles of the candidates. For instance, the evaluation instruments prioritise candidates with doctoral and master’s degrees, which are very difficult to attain in rural areas as most universities are located in major cities. Moreover, the Commissions overlook the contributions and social work carried out by many indigenous professionals in their communities. Lawyer Tzul pointed out that the judicial body has not taken any measures to ensure the participation of female indigenous lawyers.

The lists of eligible candidates sent to Congress do not include female indigenous candidates; therefore, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Justice will be mainly composed of non-indigenous men. Excluding indigenous people, especially women, falls in line with the historical racism against these communities in Guatemala. The exclusion of indigenous women from decision-making positions in the judiciary negatively affected these communities’ access to justice and the protection of human rights.  

Úrsula Indacochea from DPLF reiterated that the equal participation of woman in the judiciary is a fundamental human right and an international obligation for the State of Guatemala. She proposed the introduction of a quota system and affirmative actions that ensure equal participation of women and indigenous women in courts.

Brisna Caxaj from Impunity Watch noted that 44 female candidates are facing criminal investigation for different complaints against them which raises serious concerns about their ethics and merits, as per the Public Prosecutor's report on influence peddling and illegal negotiations around the appointment of magistrates. Panellists agreed that women who aspire to join the justice system should be honourable, independent, capable, courageous and have a gender and human rights perspective.

In her closing remarks, Linsleyd Tillit from AMMI emphasised that women should take part in the public discussions and decisions on eventual reforms to the judicial appointments process.

125 out of the 270 candidates for the Appeals Court are women, but the ratio for the Supreme Court is less, 5 out of 26. The Guatemalan Congress is set to start electing new magistrates on 23 June.

The event was broadcasted live on AMMI’s social media and is available in Spanish here.