GENEVA (19 April 2021) – A UN human rights expert today expressed serious concerns about Congress’s refusal to swear in Gloria Porras - a judge renowned for her decisions regarding protection and guarantees of human rights and the rule of law - to Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, condemning the continued harassment and intimidation of the judiciary in the country.
The former president of the Court was re-elected to the bench on 4 March, and had been due to resume her duties for another five-year term on 14 April.
“I am extremely concerned about the systematic use of legal weapons to obstruct the swearing in of Judge Porras,” said Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, adding Porras had been subjected to various other forms of judicial harassment, hate speeches and stigmatization campaigns in social media, including for gender reasons. “These actions are part of the weakening of the rule of law and judicial independence in Guatemala,” he said.
On 3 March 2021, the Supreme Court of Justice admitted a new request for impeachment against Porras and another judge on the bench, José Francisco de Mata Vela. As the decision to withdraw immunity of Constitutional Court magistrates must be taken by Congress, on 23 March, the Congress established an investigative commission to withdraw her judicial immunity.
“I am deeply concerned by these acts of intimidation and reprisals against the former President of the Constitutional Court,” said García-Sayán. “The improper use of impeachment procedure and other legal measures, which have also been used against other full and alternate judges of the Court, seems to have the sole aim of interfering with the independent exercise of the judicial function. This affects the independence, credibility and legitimacy of the justice system as a whole.
“Judges must enjoy a certain degree of immunity in civil or criminal matters in relation to decisions taken in good faith in carrying out their functions,” the UN expert said. Judicial immunity stems from the principle of judicial independence and is intended to protect judges from any form of intimidation, obstruction, harassment or improper interference in the exercise of their professional function.
“Without judicial immunity, civil or criminal proceedings could be used as a form of coercion or retaliation to undermine independent and impartial decision-making, as the case of Gloria Porras shows,” García-Sayán said.
Following Congress’s decision not to swear in Porras, a number of political actors that have been affected by her decisions as President of the Constitutional Court have threatened to file civil and criminal action against her.
Mr. Diego García-Sayán took up his functions as UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers in December 2016. He was formerly a judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for two consecutive terms. During his tenure, he was elected Vice-President of the Court (2008-2009) and President of the Court for two consecutive terms (2009-2013). He has long-standing experience working on human rights issues in a variety of settings, including for the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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