Printer Friendly

GUATEMALA: UN JUSTICE RAPPORTEUR SAYS THE CONDITION OF THE JUDICIARY IS "GRAVE".

UN justice rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy pronounced the condition of the Guatemalan judiciary "grave." In a preliminary report issued after a two-week visit in August, he said the system was burdened by serious flaws that threatened the country's stability. Ending his review Aug. 27 with suggestions for deep reforms, he concluded that the judicial system had been devastated by 36 years of civil war, that in recent polls 88% of respondents rate the system as inadequate, and that something had to be done to restore public confidence in it. Cumaraswamy visited Guatemala as a special rapporteur reviewing the independence of judges and attorneys, a post created by the UN in 1994. Martha Altolaguirre, head of the Comision Presidencial de los Derechos Humanos, said President Alvaro Arzu requested the visit. However, when the rapporteur's visit was announced early this year, some officials and jurists protested that it was a violation of Guatemala's sovereignty. Attorney General Adolfo Gonzalez Rodas said the visit was an intrusion into Guatemala's internal affairs. "We are capable of making progress, and we don't need anyone coming here to solve our problems," he said. Likewise, Oscar Najarro, president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ), said the problems with the judicial system were caused by lack of funds. When Cumaraswamy called on him, Najarro said, "We have nothing to say." Ricardo Alvarado, head of the Colegio de Abogados y Notarios, said the visit was an unconstitutional interference with the administration of justice. Nevertheless, the president of the Asociacion de Jueces de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, Enio Ventura, gave Cumaraswamy a list of complaints about interference with the work of the courts. The chief problem is a lack of independence, he said, and cited evidence that the judiciary's supervisory agency (Supervision de Tribunales del Organismo Judicial) interfered in court decisions. Ventura said that judges acted only on the basis of pressures from business and human rights groups. During his stay, Cumaraswamy also met with representatives from human rights organizations, including the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo, the Fundacion Myrna Mack, and the Archdiocesan Human Rights Office (ODHA). The ODHA complained about the lack of progress in solving the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi (see EcoCentral, 1998-04-30). The human rights representatives also discussed the Xaman massacre case (see NotiCen,1999-08-19), and the assassinations of journalist Jorge Carpio, jurist Epaminondas Gonzalez, and anthropologist Myrna Mack (see NotiCen, 1999-02-11) "Inefficiency, incompetence, corruption, influence peddling, cronyism, and insufficiency in human and financial resources have contributed to undermine the system," Cumaraswamy said on a press conference before leaving Guatemala. He concluded that impunity affects 90% of the cases that go to trial, resulting in poor credibility. He said that, if the situation was not corrected, it could destabilize the country. "Categorically, impunity is a cancer on society," he said. The need is for an "impartial and independent justice system that can act without fear or favor." He said both government and nongovernmental organizations shared his views, but that he had not received much information from the government. He received no statistics from the government on impunity although unofficial statistics indicate that in 1996 only 10% of homicide cases went to trial. "I have no statistics from 1997 and 1998, and in 1996 I do not know what proportion of that 10% led to indictments. He said that, as long as the cases are not resolved, the people's trust in the justice system will continue to suffer." On the positive side, Cumaraswamy found that the government was taking steps to improve the judiciary system. However, he mentioned only one such step and that one has yet to be taken. In process are two laws intended to professionalize civil-service posts in the justice system. Approval of the laws is expected in October, according to government sources cited by Cumaraswamy.

Vigilantism fills judicial vacuum As Cumaraswamy went about his investigation, Reuters news service reported that vigilantes in Sacualpa, El Quiche department, had beaten and burned to death five suspected criminals. In a letter to human rights ombudsman Julio Arango, the vigilantes said they had a list of 12 more suspects who would be lynched if police did not arrest them. Vigilantism has increased in recent years as police and courts have proved incapable of controlling the rising crime rate. Cumaraswamy said that, of the 250 lynchings reported since 1994, only two resulted in trials. "The vigilante killings are leftovers from the war, and now they are fed by slow justice," said Cumaraswamy. "The cause of these summary executions could be frustration with the current justice system, which could have a destabilizing effect." Before leaving Guatemala, Cumaraswamy told Arzu that the country needed an independent judiciary, and that citizens should be educated about how a judiciary works to develop popular confidence in the system. Besides laws to improve the judiciary, Cumaraswamy said international technical and financial assistance would be necessary. After a meeting with Arzu, Cumaraswamy said, "The president was very positive toward the suggestions." Cumaraswamy's final report will go to the UN Human Rights Commission in early 2000. (Sources: Inter Press Service, 08/30/99; Reuters, 09/20/99; Notimex, 04/10/99, 08/15/99, 08/17/99, 09/23/99, 09/24/99, 09/27/99)
COPYRIGHT 1999 Latin American Data Base/Latin American Institute
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Comment:GUATEMALA: UN JUSTICE RAPPORTEUR SAYS THE CONDITION OF THE JUDICIARY IS "GRAVE".
Publication:NotiCen: Central American & Caribbean Affairs
Geographic Code:2GUAT
Date:Sep 9, 1999
Words:870
Previous Article:PANAMA: MIREYA MOSCOSO PROMISES SHIFT IN PRIORITIES AS SHE BEGINS HER PRESIDENCY.
Next Article:EFFECTIVENESS OF CUBAN ATTACK ON DRUG TRAFFICKERS PROMPTS U.S. TO MOVE AHEAD WITH TALKS ON COOPERATION.
Topics:


Related Articles
GUATEMALA: FORMER DICTATORS UNDER FIRE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS.
GUATEMALA: GOVERNMENT ACCUSED OF COMPLICITY IN THREATS & ABUSES AGAINST HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS, OTHER SOCIAL ACTIVISTS.
U.N. VERIFICATION TEAM IN GUATEMALA CRITICIZES CONTINUED HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES AND INCREASE IN THE MILITARY BUDGET.
Women from 18 different countries in the region attended a four-day consultation with the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Dr Yakin...

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters