Legal proceedings against a former Guatemalan judge and a former prosecutor constitute an attack on the rule of law and a reprisal against their human rights and anti-corruption work, a UN expert said today.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Margaret Satterthwaite, has urged Guatemalan authorities to take immediate action to ensure the safety of former prosecutor Virginia Laparra Rivas and former judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez, and to protect the independence of the country’s judges and prosecutors.
“The criminalisation of Ms. Laparra and threats against Judge Gálvez are an attack on the rule of law,” said Satterthwaite. “I’m especially concerned about the irregularities in Ms. Laparra’s case and her continued detention in conditions that may put her health and safety at risk.”
Laparra, a former anti-corruption prosecutor, is in pre-trial detention for criminal proceedings she faces because of her work as prosecutor in Quetzaltenango. These proceedings against Laparra have been characterised by violations of due process, including undue delays and excessive use of pretrial detention, the expert said.
Gálvez is facing pre-trial proceedings seeking to revoke the immunity he enjoys from undue prosecution.
Counting over two dozen years on the bench, Gálvez has tried many cases focused on corruption, organised crime and the internal armed conflict. In a historic decision in May 2022, Gálvez ruled that numerous Guatemalan soldiers and police officers accused of crimes against humanity, forced disappearance, murder and attempted murder would face trial for their alleged involvement in the case known as Diario Militar, or the Military Diary Case.
The UN expert said that as a result of presiding over the high-profile case, Gálvez had been subject to threats, surveillance, and harassment. He recently resigned from office.
“The criminal law is being abused to target civil servants and justice officials, the very people who protect and guarantee human rights, who are strengthening the rule of law and making great strides in the fight against impunity in the country,” Satterthwaite said.
She further recalledthata fundamental principle of judicial independence is that judges should not be subject to criminal or disciplinary action based on the content of their lawful decisions. She said prosecutors must not be criminalised for carrying out their duties in the fight against corruption.
“I am extremely concerned about these cases specifically, and about a number of recent actions that weaken the rule of law and judicial independence in Guatemala,” the Special Rapporteur said.
She also urged authorities to ensure that individuals working in the legal system do not suffer attacks and reprisals for their work or because of their gender.
“Authorities in Guatemala must act to consolidate the rule of law and judicial independence in Guatemala by protecting all justice officials,” Satterthwaite said.