As is the case in many countries across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has further undermined the rule of law in Guatemala due to the use of emergency measures to limit fundamental freedoms and blur the separation of powers. Simultaneously, the ongoing judicial nominations and elections process in Guatemala has been plagued with technical failures and high-level corruption scandals, casting a shadow over the legitimacy of the judiciary and highlighting that reforming the process is vital for the rule of law. Although the judicial nominations process is in sore need of reform, the executive’s recent proposals to do so amidst the COVID-19 pandemic does not allow for the open and transparent process which is needed to bring back legitimacy to and trust in Guatemala’s judiciary.
A policy brief, from the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC), and the Vance Center, outlines the current challenges facing the selection of magistrates in Guatemala, not only due to systemic corruption, but also with regards to the COVID-19 crisis facing the country. The process needs substantial reform but not in the middle of the selection process nor in the middle of the pandemic.
The key point outlined in the brief are:
- The ongoing judicial nominations and elections in Guatemala have again shown that the process must be reformed to bring back legitimacy to and trust in Guatemala’s judiciary.
- The reform process initiated by the executive has failed to include civil society and members of the judiciary.
- The COVID-19 pandemic does not allow for the participatory and transparent processes needed in reforming judicial nominations.
- When reforms are finalised, Supreme Court and Court of Appeals magistrates should have lifetime tenure to strengthen judicial independence.
The paper leaves no doubt as the challenges facing the judicial process within widespread, and systemic, corruption and provides a list of policy recommendations seeking to strengthen the independence of the judiciary away from corrupt practices of the legislative body.
- Postpone the reform process until after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides to allow for the proper allocation of resources and the inclusion and participation of the justice sector actors needed to reach consensus.
- Include a wider variety of justice sector actors in discussing, debating and drafting the reforms, including representatives from civil society and the judiciary, along with involving citizens by holding public hearings.
- Ensure that the proper time is allocated to fully and openly discuss and debate the reforms.
- Maintain the current election of magistrates separate from any ongoing reform process.
- Include experts from the Latin America region who have similarly reformed their judicial nominations process, such as Mexico, Colombia or Peru, in the reform process to draw on best practices and lessons learned.
The authors of the paper are Jaime Chávez Alor, Latin America Policy Manager at the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, and Lauren McIntosh, Legal Advisor at ILAC, and you can access the download, here. You can read more about the work of ILAC, here, and the Vance Center, here.