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Guatemala: Top Judges Face Threats, Must Be Protected – Expert

GENEVA (1 July 2021) –UN Special Rapporteur on the
independence of judges and lawyers, Diego García-Sayán,
today urged Guatemalan authorities to tighten protection for
the country’s judiciary and civil servants after one
senior judge tasked with hearing cases brought against top
government officials indicated he had been threatened and
followed by unknown individuals.

“I am very worried
about a number of recent actions aimed at weakening the rule
of law and judicial independence in Guatemala,” said the
UN human rights expert.

“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,” he

“I remind Guatemala of its obligation to
promptly investigate acts of harassment or threats against

Judges Yassmín Barrios, Miguel Gálvez,
Erika Aifán and Pablo Xitumul submitted a complaint to the
public prosecutor’s office on 21 June, saying they were
under increased surveillance and harassed.

The four
judges try high-profile cases involving past or current
government officials, high powered gang members, and members
of the military or paramilitary organizations. The special
courts have sentenced senior officials such as former
President Efrain Rios Montt.

The courts were
established to help strengthen independence of the
Guatemalan judiciary and to combat corruption; judges
assigned to them are considered highly competent.

four face more than 30 criminal charges, some of them
several years old. They have asked the General Prosecutor to
dismiss any spurious or ill-founded complaints lodged in
retaliation for carrying out their official duties with
independence. “It is clear that many of these cases, even
if they are frivolous, are being dragged out in order to
exert pressure on judges,” said García-Sayán.

UN expert also expressed alarm at decisions of the
Constitutional Court to lift immunity that had shielded
judges Aifán and Xitumul against prosecution in separate
cases against them.

“Guatemala must immediately stop
abusing the law to harass judges,” said the independent
expert. “If this highly disturbing trend continues,
prosecutors, attorneys and witnesses in cases related to the
fight against corruption or transitional justice may also
come under threat.”


Mr. Diego
took up his functions as
Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and
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

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