Attacks Against the Former President of the Constitutional Court of Guatemala
The Hague, 22 April 2021. Impunity Watch expresses its profound concern over recent developments in Guatemala, which threaten judicial independence and seriously undermine the Rule of Law in the country. On 13 April, Congress refused to swear in judge Gloria Porras for a new five-year term as magistrate of the Constitutional Court, despite being legitimately elected by the University of San Carlos to occupy that position. Porras had served as a magistrate for ten years and was the Court’s president since last year. She is widely known for her independence and commitment to combating impunity and corruption through her decisions.
Congress refused to swear in Judge Porras based on false arguments of procedural error in her election, but in reality it was in retaliation for her position in favour of judicial independence, the protection of human rights, and the fight against corruption. During the last ten years Porras has received over sixty malicious accusations against her in which appeals were made to remove her immunity as a judge. One of these cases argues that Porras and her colleagues interfered with former President Jimmy Morales’ authority by ruling against the expulsion of Swedish Ambassador Anders Kompass. Kompass had publicly defended the CICIG, an international body which investigated corruption and impunity in Guatemala between 2006 and 2019. The refusal to swear in Porras thus cannot be seen separately from economic, political, and military elites’ interests and their historical attempts to undo gains made in the combat of corruption and impunity over recent years in Guatemala. The attempts of these elites have already led to the exile of independent justice operators such as judge Claudia Escobar and former Public Prosecutors Claudia Paz y Paz Baily and Thelma Aldana due to legal harassment and threats.
Porras lost her immunity on April 13 and she decided to leave the country to prevent a malicious persecution against her. She has announced that she will stay in Washington DC until the appeals against her election are resolved and she can take office at the Constitutional Court again. Impunity Watch urges the international community to respond to the threat that Porras’ situation means for judicial independence in Guatemala. Through diverse malicious judicial strategies, political, economic and military elites question and challenge the decisions of Guatemala’s highest court, presenting serious threats for democracy and those defending human rights in the country. These strategies violate article 167 of Guatemala’s Appeal Law, which states that magistrates cannot be prosecuted for their resolutions. The infringement of their judicial independence undermines important gains in relation to human rights and the dismantling of illegal networks of crime and corruption which the CICIG and other actors have made with international support. It means that the country’s highest court of justice, like other state institutions, is now closely connected to those involved in corruption and criminal enterprises. This institutional capture presents a serious threat for democracy and leaves those defending human rights in the country at risk of criminalisation and worse. It is therefore crucial for the international community to speak out and take action to prevent the further collapse of the Rule of Law in Guatemala. Gloria Porras remains committed to the cause of justice: ‘I have sworn to defend the Constitution, and I will continue to do that, within or outside of the Constitutional Court’. The international community has the moral obligation to support her.