Guatemala: Additional criminalisation against independent justice operators

26/10/2022
Urgent Appeal
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Shalom de León via Unsplash

26 October 2022. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Guatemala.

Description of the situation

The Observatory has received with concern information from the Unit for the Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos en Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) about new acts of criminalisation against Mr. Juan Francisco Sandoval, former head of the Fiscalía Especial Contra la Impunidad (FECI) and a reference in the fight against corruption in Guatemala. As well as against Ms. Leily Santizo, Mr. Sandoval’s defence lawyer and former head of the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG). The Observatory has also received information about the continued criminalisation of former prosecutor Ms. Virginia Laparra.

On 19 October 2022, the current head of FECI, Mr. Rafael Curruchiche, reported through the social media channels of the Ministerio Público (MP) of Guatemala, about the issuance by Judge Víctor Hugo Herrera Ríos of two arrest warrants against Ms. Santizo and Mr. Sandoval, respectively, for the alleged crime of "hindering criminal prosecution" (Article 458 Bis of the Law Against Illicit Enrichment) in the framework of the judicial case known as "Caso cooptación y corrupción judicial", which is under reserve.

The arrest warrant against Mr. Sandoval, the fourth against him since November 2021, is national and international in nature, as the former prosecutor has been in exile since July 2021, fearing arbitrary detention following his illegal removal as head of FECI. On the same day that the arrest warrants were issued, FECI officials in coordination with the Policía Nacional Civil (PNC) raided Leily Santizo’s home in Guatemala City while he was away.

The accusation against both is based on an exchange that Ms. Santizo and Mr. Sandoval allegedly had through an instant messaging application in January 2022 about a criminal case under reserve against Mr. Sandoval. According to the FECI, there would be indications of "obstruction of prosecution" because Mr. Sandoval would have had privileged access to information from a case under reserve, despite the fact that, as a defendant, Mr. Sandoval was entitled to this information.

On the same 19 October 2022, while Ms. Laparra, arbitrarily detained since 23 February 2022, was awaiting the start of a hearing to review her preventive detention measure in a criminal court of first instance in Guatemala City, the Fundación Contra el Terrorismo and anonymous social media accounts leaked information that a new arrest warrant had been issued against her. At the end of the hearing, in which her request for house arrest was denied, Ms. Laparra received official information that an Urgent Proceedings Judge had ordered her arrest for the alleged crime of "disclosure of confidential information" for her administrative complaints against the then judge Lesther Castellanos with jurisdiction in Quetzaltenango, in the context of the trial against those responsible for various corruption structures in the Municipality of Quetzaltenango. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, Ms. Laparra is being arbitrarily detained in the Unidad Militar de Matomoros.

The new acts of criminalisation against Juan Francisco Sandoval, Leily Santizo and Virginia Laparra are part of the hostile climate established by the government of Alejandro Giammattei against justice operators who work for an independent justice system and against impunity and corruption in Guatemala.

These acts take place in a context of deliberate erosion and weakening of the rule of law in Guatemala, aimed at creating a climate of fear, as well as co-opting the judicial system to ensure impunity for criminal networks operating in the country.

Since April 2021, at least 24 independent justice operators have been forced to leave the country to protect their integrity and that of their families. According to figures documented by UDEFEGUA, independent justice operators were the most targeted group of human rights defenders, with a total of 211 attacks, including defamation, hate speech, unfounded judicial complaints and arbitrary detentions.

Among the harassed justice operators are Erika Aifán, Judge of First Instance of the Juzgado Primero de Primera Instancia Plena, Narcoactividad y Delitos Contra el Ambiente de Mayor Riesgo “D”; Xiomara Sosa and Amy Girón former prosecutors of the FECI; Aliss Morán and Samari Carolina Gómez Díaz, both former FECI assistants; Elena Sut Ren, prosecutor of the Agencia de Casos especiales del Conflicto Armado Interno de la Fiscalía de Derechos Humanos; the former Attorney General of Guatemala Claudia Paz y Paz, as well as Miguel Ángel Gálvez, Judge of the Juzgado B de Mayor Riesgo del Organismo Judicial de Guatemala..

The Observatory strongly condemns the new acts of criminalisation against Juan Francisco Sandoval, Leily Santizo and Virginia Laparra, as well as the continuous harassment against all judicial operators who watch over the independence of the Guatemalan system.

The Observatory urges the competent authorities to put an end to the judicial harassment against all of them and to immediately take the necessary measures to guarantee their safety alongside their physical and psychological integrity.

Call to action:

Please write to the authorities in Guatemala urging them to:
- immediately release Virginia Laparra and immediately adopt the most appropriate measures to guarantee her physical and psychological integrity as well as that of Leily Santizo, Juan Francisco Sandoval, and all justice operators and human rights defenders;
- put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Leily Santizo, Juan Francisco Sandoval, Virginia Laparra, as well as against all justice operators and human rights defenders in Guatemala.;
- end all threats, attacks and acts of harassment and criminalisation, and ensure guarantees for those who work to end corruption and impunity and defend human rights in Guatemala.;
- immediately reverse the policy of persecution and criminalisation of independent justice operators and human rights defenders in Guatemala;
- promote a comprehensive public policy for the protection of human rights defenders that includes components of protection, prevention and the fight against impunity through a broad and participatory process.

Addresses

- Sr. Alejandro Giammattei, President of the Republic of Guatemala. Twitter: @DrGiammattei
- Sr. Guillermo Castilla, Vice President of the Republic of Guatemala. E-mail: guillermo.castillo@vicepresidencia.gob.gt
- Sr. David Napoleón Barrientos, First Deputy Minister of the Interior in charge of Security. E-mail: gachavarria@mingob.gob.gt
- Sra. Embajadora Carla María Rodríguez Mancia, Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the United Nations in Geneva; E-mail: mission.guatemala@ties.itu.int, onusuiza@minex.gob.gt
- Sr. Embajador Luis Raúl Estevez, Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C; E-mail: oea@minex.gob.gt, guatemala@oas.org
- Sr. Embajador Jorge Skinner-Klée Arenales, Embassy of Guatemala in Brussels; E-mail: embaguate.belgica@skynet.be

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Guatemala in your respective countries.

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  • Co-signatories

    Paris-Geneva, 26 October 2022
     
    Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply GTM 003 / 1022 / OBS 078.
     
    The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) is a programme created in 1997 by International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and aims to intervene to prevent or remedy concrete situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

    To contact the Observatory, please call the hotline:
    - Email: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
    - Tel. FIDH: +33 1 43 55 25 18
    - Tel. OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39


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