Despite concerns over corruption and civil society groups’ objections to recent judicial nominations in Guatemala, the country’s Constitutional Court upheld the appointments in a 3-2 ruling yesterday afternoon. Prensa Libre reports that the new Supreme Court and appellate court judges -- who were reportedly chosen as a result of backroom deal between the ruling Patriot Party (PP) and the opposition Renewed Democratic Liberty Party (LIDER) -- will assume their offices in five days’ time. In an interview with El Periodico, human rights advocate Helen Mack of the Fundacion Myrna Mack told the paper that the decision represents proof of the lack of judicial independence in the country. As a next step, Mack endorsed a proposal by the UN-backed Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to hold a series of technical conferences to put together an agenda for justice reform.
Steve Inskeep of NPR’s Morning Edition has a brief interview with former Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, who describes some of the risks she faced in her job. Out of concern for her safety, Paz y Paz claims that she traveled with a seven-member security detail in Guatemala. Asked about why she has moved to the U.S. after leaving office, the ex-prosecutor said her family “needed to be away for a little bit.”Following the overturning of the Efrain Rios Montt genocide and crimes against humanity convictions, I held open the slight possibility that the technical ruling could be a step forward for Guatemala's courts.
One did not just want Rios Montt found guilty simply because we "knew" he was guilty. We wanted him found guilty on those charges if the evidence supported that conclusion. We wanted the trial to be conducted fairly even though that option was not made available to those massacred. And we wanted the trial itself to contribute to the strengthening of the rule of law in Guatemala.
Unfortunately, the legal reasoning behind the overturning of the conviction was flimsy. The prosecutor was pushed out early and the selection process for her replacement was questionable. And now after the Guatemalan people and the entire world have seen the the questionable selections of Supreme and Appellate court judges, whatever wishful thinking one might have clung to has now disappeared. 2014 has been a rough year for the rule of law in Guatemala.