Civil Society, Judges Team Up Against Judicial Corruption in Guatemala

Source: The Pan American Post

The system by which Guatemala nominates candidates for its appellate and Supreme Courts is notoriously corrupt. As Steve Dudley has explained for InSight Crime, a process meant to guarantee that only the most qualified candidates become judges has been entirely overrun by special interests and backroom politicking.

Last week, Guatemala’s Congress selected appellate and Supreme Court judges from a vetted list of candidates, the last step in a process Dudley describes as a “free-for-all with various political, economic and criminal interests.”

This description fits well with the end results of the nomination vote. It has been widely reported that justices were appointed as a result of an agreement between the ruling Patriot Party (PP) and the largest opposition faction, the Renewed Democratic Liberty Party (LIDER).

News site Nomada has more on the agreement, noting that it was struck in the wake of a Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) ruling that suspended the PP from political activities for 6 months over its early launch of its 2015 presidential candidate in September. According to Plaza Publica, PP head and Vice President Roxana Baldetti appears to be calling in favors already, taking advantage of her party’s appointments to challenge the TSE ruling in the newly-changed Supreme Court.

While the rampant state of corruption in Guatemala often leads to pessimism regarding its rickety justice system — see the L.A. Times’ recent report, “Guatemala, once a leader in war-crime prosecutions, at a standstill” for an example — there is room for hope in this case. Civil society advocates have spoken out about the shady judicial nominations, and not only are they being heard, but they have also gained support from local judicial actors and international organizations.

Claudia Escobar Mejia, who was chosen for an appellate court seat in the recent elections, made headlines on Monday when she announced that she would be resigning in protest of the “perverse” election process. On Tuesday she was joined by some 45 other judges who supported her decision, and together they called on the Constitutional Court to take up legal challenges to the appointments presented by Fundacion Myrna Mack and other Guatemalan groups. El Periodico reports that Escobar said she and her allies were prepared to hold a “partial strike” if the Court failed to hear these challenges.

Five international civil society groups — the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC), the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) — have issued a letter to Guatemalan authorities praising Escobar’s decision and calling on them to fix irregularities in the nominations.

These calls have since been echoed by Gabriela Knaul, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

All of this activism is having an effect. Leading daily Prensa Libre’s home page today reports that international pressure is building on Congress to void the current nominations and start over.  And according to El Periodico, the office of Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman is preparing to file a petition with the Attorney General’s Office alleging eight major abnormalities in the nominations proceedings.