Mr. Türk’s warning comes amid the reported harassment and prosecution of justice officials involved with the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity (CICIG), including, most recently, former Commissioner Francisco Dall’Anese.
The UN rights chief called on the Guatemalan authorities “to ensure judges and lawyers can function freely and without fear of reprisals”. An independent judiciary is “vital” for a democratic society, he insisted.
The International Commission against Impunity was an independent body established by a UN-Guatemala agreement in 2007 to carry out corruption probes. Its work ceased in September 2019 when its mandate was not renewed amid attacks by then-President Jimmy Morales.
Barred from standing
Mr. Türk also warned about potential violations of the right to participate in public affairs, as the candidacies of several presidential and vice-presidential candidates for the upcoming June elections were rejected by election authorities.
“I am also concerned that presidential and vice-presidential candidates from across the political spectrum, including Thelma Cabrera, Jordan Rodas and Roberto Arzú, have had their candidacies for the 25 June elections rejected by the Electoral Court on seemingly arbitrary grounds,” the High Commissioner said.
Thelma Cabrera was the only indigenous candidate running for president until the decision to disqualify her from the race. Appeals on all three cases are currently before the Supreme Court.
Judicial independence at risk
Mr. Türk stressed that “the right to participate in public affairs, including the right to vote and to stand for election, is an internationally recognized human right,” adding that judiciary authorities should “decide matters before them impartially, on the basis of facts and in accordance with the law, without any restrictions or improper influence”.
Earlier this year, the UN rights chief sounded the alarm on similar reprisals in Guatemala, as the country’s Special Prosecutor’s Office against impunity announced arrest warrants against three justice officials, including a former CICIG staffer.
Surge in harassment
When presenting his report on Guatemala to the Human Rights Council in March, Mr. Türk pointed out that between 2021 and 2022, his office had documented a more than 70 per cent increase in the number of justice officials facing intimidation and criminal charges in the country.
The harassment was related to the officials’ work on corruption or human rights violations, particularly those that occurred in the context of the civil war from 1960 to 1996. Some had left the country, fearing for their safety.
Guatemala’s human rights record was examined in January 2023 under the Universal Periodic Review. A significant number of recommendations made as part of that process, by other Member States, were related to the need to guarantee the independence of the judiciary, protect justice officials, and strengthen anti-corruption measures and the rule.