Attacks on women justice defenders threaten rule of law in Guatemala
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 cabinet members for large-scale customs fraud.
She also opened investigations against Morales and some of his relatives and associates, and led the important Sepur Zarco case at judgment. This is 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, her actions as attorney general had not appealed to Guatemala’s political and economic elite, leading to accusations of corruption and embezzlement against her. Due to the charges – which are commonly used as legal weapons by the elite – Aldana’s presidential candidacy was denied. She too fled, in the United States, where she was granted asylum in February 2020.
Respect the rule of law
The ability of judges and prosecutors to work independently is crucial when trying to maintain democracy and promote, protect and respect human rights and the rule of law. Hopes are now directed towards 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 has not been entirely positive. On April 17, she changed the prosecutor leading the case to lift Morales’ immunity from prosecution. However, the prosecution continues to investigate Morales for abuse of power, declaring CICIG commissioner Iván Velásquez persona non grata and preventing his return in 2018.
These contradictory messages leave room for some optimism that Consuelo Porras can play a positive role in protecting the rule of law and judicial independence in Guatemala, by intervening in the case against her namesake, the judge. Gloria Porras (unrelated).
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” at the current risks to the rule of law in Guatemala.
Similar statements would be welcome from the US and the EU, which have historically supported Guatemala’s fight against impunity. Their support has become even more crucial with the recent approval of a law that strengthens government control over NGOs and allows him to unsubscribe them. The implementation of this law depends on a decision of the Constitutional Court.
The COVID-19 pandemic is currently preventing any repetition of the massive public protests that led President Molina to resign in 2015. This means that international solidarity and support could prove crucial to sustaining the gains of courageous women such as Gloria Porras, Claudia Paz y Paz, Yassmin Barrios and Thelma Aldana, and for preventing Guatemala’s fragile democracy from sliding into anarchy.
Gloria Porras voiced it 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.