Attacks on women justice defenders threaten rule of law in Guatemala

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Thelma Aldana, Claudia Paz y Paz’s successor as Guatemala’s chief prosecutor, successfully continued efforts to effectively investigate and prosecute crimes and corruption. She was responsible for the successful prosecution of the former president Otto Perez Molina, its vice-president and several members of the cabinet for a large-scale customs fraud.

She also opened investigations against Jimmy Morales and some of his relatives and associates, and led the important Sepur Zarco case at judgment. It was the first case in which a national court has recognized and condemned sexual violence, including sexual and domestic slavery, as a crime against humanity.

After his term ended in 2018, Aldana, who enjoyed strong public support, decided to run for president. Unsurprisingly, his actions as attorney general had not appealed to Guatemala’s political and economic elite, leading to charges of corruption and embezzlement. Due to the charges – which are commonly used as legal weapons by the elite – Aldana’s presidential candidacy was denied. She too ran away to the United States, where she was granted asylum in February 2020.

Uphold the rule of law

The ability of judges and prosecutors to work independently is crucial when trying to defend democracy and promote, protect and respect human rights and the rule of law. Hopes are now turned to another woman operator of justice: the current Attorney General, Consuelo Porras.

However, unlike his predecessors, Porras’ independence and track record in fighting crime and corruption is not a positive one. On April 17, she changed the prosecutor leading the case to lift Morales’ immunity from prosecution. Nevertheless, the prosecution continues to investigate Morales for abuse of power, declaring CICIG commissioner Iván Velásquez persona non grata and unless he returns in 2018.

It is nevertheless hoped that Consuelo Porras will be able to play a positive role in the protection of the rule of law and judicial independence in Guatemala, by intervening in the case against her namesake Judge Gloria Porras (unrelated to family).

An equally important role must be played by the international community. The United Nations, through its special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, has already Express his “deep concern” about the current risks to the rule of law in Guatemala. we Vice President Kamala Harris has shown her support for the rule of law in Guatemala by meeting with several justice actors in exile, including Paz, Aldana and Porras.

Similar actions and declarations would be welcome from the EU, which has always supported Guatemala’s fight against impunity. International support for judicial independence has become even more crucial with the recent approval of a law that increases government control over NGOs and allows it to deregister them. The implementation of this law depends on the decision of the Constitutional Court.

The COVID-19 pandemic is currently preventing any repetition of the massive public protests that led to the resignation of corrupt President Pérez Molina in 2015. This means that international solidarity and support could prove crucial to sustaining the gains made by women brave women such as Gloria Porras, Claudia Paz y Paz, Yassmin Barrios and Thelma Aldana, and for preventing the fragile Guatemalan democracy from descending into anarchy.

Gloria Porras expressed her commitment to return to Guatemala as soon as possible: “I will continue to work as a judge in Guatemala, without fear of reprisal. She and her colleagues deserve our support.

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