Guatemala: Persistent repression of female justice actors

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Geneva-Paris-Guatemala City, 15 June 2022 - The criminalisation of human rights prosecutor Elena Sut Ren, former prosecutor Virginia Laparra, and former Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz is evidence of the impunity with which the Guatemalan authorities continue to dismantle the rule of law and human rights institutions in Guatemala, denounced the Observatory and Unidad de Protección a Defensores y Defensoras de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala (UDEFEGUA).

Despite repeated international calls to guarantee an independent justice system and protect independent justice actors, the Guatemalan government has refused to comply with its international human rights obligations by opposing the implementation of legislative, political, administrative, judicial, and social mechanisms to secure the work of human rights defenders. The recent re-appointment as attorney general of Consuelo Porras — infamous for judicially harassing independent justice actors and forcing them into exile — is a further step in establishing a system of impunity in the country.

So much so that on 7 June 2022, Virginia Laparra, former prosecutor of the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI) in Quezaltenango, was sent to trial before the Seventh Criminal Judge for allegedly committing the crime of "abuse of authority". Ms. Laparra will remain in pre-trial detention pending trial. Arbitrarily arrested on 23 February 2022 for allegedly committing the crimes of "false testimony," "abuse of authority," and "usurpation of duties," the former prosecutor is being held in the Women’s Area of the Matamoros Military Prison, where her emotional and psychological health has deteriorated drastically.

A day later, on 8 June 2022, the executive secretary of the National Office Against Torture of Guatemala filed a complaint against Elena Sut Ren, prosecutor of the Agency for Special Cases of the Internal Armed Conflict of the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office, and Claudia Paz y Paz, Guatemala’s attorney general from 2010 to 2014 and current regional director of the Central America and Mexico programme of the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) for the alleged crimes of "abuse of power," "usurpation of powers," "torture," and "simulation of crimes." These accusations stem from the criminal action that prosecutor Sut Ren initiated against eight retired military personnel accused of "enforced disappearance" on the basis of a general instruction issued by the former attorney general for the investigation of serious human rights violations committed during the Internal Armed Conflict. Showing complete ignorance of international and regional human rights standards, the National Office Against Torture’s complaint claims that this general instruction violates the principles of legality and non-retroactivity of criminal law in relation to the crime of enforced disappearance.

Since President Alejandro Giammattei came to power, the policy of weakening democratic institutions in Guatemala has been maintained and intensified. The protection and promotion of human rights has been affected by the systematic dismantling and persecution of institutions and independent justice actors who defend the rule of law. Since April 2021, at least 23 independent justice actors have been forced to leave the country for their own safety and that of their families.

The Observatory and UDEFEGUA deplore the judicial harassment of former prosecutors Claudia Paz y Paz and Virginia Laparra, and reiterate that this criminalisation is nothing more than a reprisal for objectively, independently, and impartially exercising their work against organised crime and corruption structures involving high-ranking State officials. The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release former prosecutor Virginia Laparra and put an end to the judicial harassment against all independent justice actors in the country.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

The Unidad de Protección a Defensores y Defensoras de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) has been providing services to human rights defenders in Guatemala and in other Central American countries since 2000, to build individual and collective capacities and for self-management of risks. UDEFEGUA is a member organisation of OMCT’s SOS-Torture Network.

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