Event Summary – Guatemala’s Protracted Rule of Law Crisis

Launch of a Report on Justice and Accountability in Guatemala by the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC)

Washington, DC, USA | On October 10, the IAWJ, together with the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC), the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative (ABA Roli), the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), and the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP) launched ILAC’s latest Rule of Law Assessment Report on Justice and Accountability in Guatemala.

The report was the result of an assessment mission to Guatemala in October 2017. The mission was comprised of a group of experts that included two of IAWJ judge members: Judge Josselyne Béjar Rivera from Mexico and Judge Gabriela Knaul from Brazil. The report concludes that there are serious rule of law and access to justice issues in the country, issues heightened by the Guatemala’s current crisis with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

The event began with the opening remarks of Agneta Johansson, ILAC’s Executive Director; Mary McQueen, NCSC’s Presidsent; and Hon. Vanessa Ruiz, IAWJ’s President. During her remarks, President Ruiz said that the IAWJ was most concerned about the negative political pressures on judges and on the independence of the judiciary in the country, the high levels of violence women and girls faced, and the incredible barriers to redress.

Following their remarks, five of the experts from the assessment team addressed key findings in the report. Maria Claudia Pulido, Assistant Executive Secretary for Monitoring, Promotion and Technical Cooperation of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) moderated the discussion. Ms. Pulido explained that the administration of justice is Guatemala’s biggest challenge and it is hindering access to human rights in the country. The IACHR had recently issued a similar report.

Rhodri Williams, ILAC’s Senior Legal expert, said that Guatemala’s case is unique because there have been almost unseen developments in the area of rule of law that set an important regional precedent, in particular the creation of the CICIG. Most of the people interviewed credited the CICIG with being the one place where entrenched power and impunity could be reliably addressed. These efforts have been accompanied by a strong backlash.

Nerea Aparicio, ABA ROLI’s Latin American and the Caribbean Division Director, referred to the current controversy surrounding the recent expulsion of CICIG’s Commissioner Ivan Velazquez; the report recommends Guatemala to allow Velazquez to return to the country and let CICIG continue its work.

Carolina Valenzuela, member of IAP and Crown Prosecutor in Canada, continued the conversation by talking about the meetings the group had with justice operators. The expert group discovered that there had been real advancements in the judiciary. As an example, she explained that Guatemala has created court protections for victims of domestic violence. Nevertheless, various challenges remain for prosecutors, such as indigenous women’s lack of trust in the justice system.

Next, Luis María Palma, member of NCSC and Vice President of the Latin America chapter of the International Association for Court Administration, commented on the structure of the judiciary in Guatemala. In his opinion, the biggest problems in the country are that the judicial independence is threatened and that the heavy caseload for judges is hampering the quality of their performance. 

Finally, Mike Enwall, individual member of ILAC and previous President of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, also addressed the current threat on the independence of the judiciary. Judges in Guatemala, he explained, feel beleaguered in many ways by the lack of funding, the lack of security, and the general interference with their work from outside and inside the judiciary.

The event concluded with a Q&A.

Watch the full event below:


You can find the report here: English | Spanish.