Constitutional Court: Gloria Porras: "I am concerned about how in Guatemala they are using the laws to achieve malicious objectives" | International

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Judge Gloria Porras in her office in Guatemala.Courtesy

The lawyer Gloria Porras (60 years old) should have been sworn in this Tuesday as a member of the Constitutional Court (CC) of Guatemala, the highest court in the country, where she has acted as a magistrate for a decade and which she has presided over since the year past. But a challenge to her appointment, which she learned about in the act in which she was to be appointed in Congress, will prevent her from being invested in that position. In a telephone interview with EL PAÍS, Porras denounced that it is “one more example of the harassment” to which he has been subjected for having carried out his work independently.

It is not the first time that Porras has to respond to judicial proceedings for having made decisions in favor of human rights and against corruption, such as when he voted to stop a law reform that promoted an amnesty for those accused of crimes against humanity ; or when, together with other magistrates, he asked Congress to exclude the candidates accused of corruption from holding positions in judicial bodies. In fact, he has had 53 cases against him since 2015. Finally, this Tuesday he was left out of the new Constitutional Court for a provisional protection.

"It does not surprise me but it is always unworthy," Porras assured EL PAÍS minutes after the swearing-in session of the new magistrates – two other members of the CC, a head and a substitute, were also excluded due to challenges, which were already known before this Tuesday. As he explains, although news had reached him that they were not going to let him take office, he had not received any official notification in this regard, so he decided to appear in Congress, where they read the challenge to his inauguration. “I am concerned about the rule of law and the way in which they are using the laws to achieve evil goals, but as a lawyer I don't think I can say that I have lost something in this. I made my effort to participate and I feel very honored to have been appointed and now we will have to wait for the course of the legal actions ”, she said. Porras considers "absurd" the questions that have been made to her appointment as magistrate because she is not a professor at the San Carlos University (USC), the center that proposed her, and because the vote was public. "I do not think that this is a reason for a provisional protection," he said.

In an interview offered last week to EL PAÍS through Zoom, the former magistrate already denounced the harassment and persecution to which the country's justice operators are subjected, especially those who fight against corruption, a situation that led to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) to request precautionary measures to protect Porras and guarantee his judicial independence. “Fighting corruption is not for me an act dedicated to a particular person. It is a necessary act for the State to function, ”he said in a slow and firm tone. "That has been my job for the last ten years and it is what has led me to an extremely complex situation."

Porras has had to face more than fifty complaints and requests to withdraw his immunity for rulings issued by the CC, the highest court in the country, where processes of all kinds are resolved – criminal, labor, civil or electoral – and whose failures are unappealable. Of these, three are pending and two have already reached Congress, which is the one that will make the decision on the requests to withdraw his immunity.

In one of those cases, the members of the court are accused of abuse of authority for having granted an amparo to the former Swedish ambassador, Anders Kompass, after former President Jimmy Morales tried to expel him from the country. The diplomat had offered his public and financial support to the CICIG, the United Nations mission that, after 12 years fighting against impunity and corruption in Guatemala, had to leave by order of that government. The magistrates of the Constitutional Court were accused of "invading" the powers of the president in matters of foreign policy, something that Porras rejects. And he dismisses the decision to open a process against him for that case as "arbitrary" and lacking in logic.

"If the Constitutional Court is the highest interpreter of the Constitution, then what are lower bodies doing now, questioning my decision?" Porras asked himself during the interview. "There is constantly a threat that if they do not like the decision they will raise a prejudice against me and they will keep me under constant harassment that violates in a disrespectful way the independence that by constitutional mandate I have in the exercise of the position," he said.

The magistrate spoke with this newspaper on April 8 to publicize what is happening in the Constitutional Court, where, according to her complaint, the judges have been victims of persecution through legal mechanisms, a "harassment" to which she attributes the health problems of one of the members, who had to leave the CC last year. "If this form of persecution is not stopped, to violate the independence of the judges of the Court, I do consider that there is a breach of the rule of law," he warned.

These are some excerpts from the interview (edited for length reasons) with former Magistrate Gloria Porras:

Question. In some of the cases for which they have been prosecuted, such as the “parallel commissions”, Congress ignored the Constitutional Court's resolution to exclude candidates accused of corruption from positions in judicial bodies. How could judicial integrity be guaranteed?

Answer. My great expectation is the intervention of the Public Ministry, which at some point must carry out an investigation of what has happened, not only in the case of commissions for the selection of magistrates, but also in the resolution that we issue in the case of the prosecutor. of Human Rights, which has not been complied with. It is also a resolution that the Supreme Court of Justice ignores and where it says: "Yes, you are saying … but I think not and in any case I will not be able to comply with what you are ordering me."

I think this point of disobedience is entering very strongly in different spaces and what I see with this is a breach of the rule of law, which is the greatest concern I have; because now they are my decisions, tomorrow they will be those of other magistrates. But a rule of law is sustained by compliance with the law and the decisions of its judges and, above the decisions adopted by the Constitutional Court, the only thing left is to go to the IACHR or to other international forums. But we should not be with that concern, that each decision we adopt can be discussed, analyzed and valued by a lower body because that breaks the entire constitutional order that is established.

P. Iván Velázquez said that the real problem in Guatemala was not individual confrontations, such as the one that the CICIG had with the government of Jimmy Morales, but rather the fracture of the rule of law. You say your country is heading for it. Is the rule of law already broken?

R. I already find a serious difficulty in not complying with the decisions of the Constitutional Court and in this undue criminal prosecution not only against me but also against other magistrates of the Court and other officials. (There are) independent judges and prosecutors who are going through the same situation, judges with arrest warrants who are going to return to their positions. So I think that this is no longer a simple assessment, but there are publicly clear facts that generate that feeling of concern for all of us and that is what makes me participate in a third term.

The commitment is to continue trying to do this work for a while longer and I also believe that the message is for other people who are seeing the treatment that they are giving. The motivation to young people, to correct people to aspire to occupy these positions I believe that it is an obligation on my part, to establish the dignity of the constitutional judge. Defend that dignity that I have not only as a judge, as a professional but as a magistrate. I do believe that the facts speak for themselves.

P. Did leaving CICIG make your work difficult? Did that increase the attacks that the judges have had to face?

R. There is a historical event that I started with and that is the pre-trials before and after 2018. That year in which the CICIG comes out, the consequences for an ambassador who spoke in favor of the CICIG have been very complicated. I understand that none are perfect and eventually there are some mistakes that could have been made but I have no doubt that it was a very good exercise for the country and that eventually we have to rethink how they can be tackled again. this kind of support so that we can continue doing our work with the backing and knowledge of officials like Iván Velázquez, who undoubtedly gave the country unquestionable support. The evaluations that are made of these projects obviously correspond to discard what was not good and to consolidate what was correct so that we can continue as a country. I do believe that we still need support in these areas of investigation and criminal prosecution.

P. Until now, have you felt supported by the Public Ministry?

R. So far there has not been a clear statement regarding these criminal prosecutions. I would hope that these Congress issues do not pass. But if this were the case, it will be the space of the Public Ministry that will have to make a very clear and very forceful statement, which it has already done at other times, that constitutional judges cannot be prosecuted due to decisions. I, from the point of view of my decisions, have had all the peace of mind regarding the overwhelming amount of lawsuits that are presented. Because they are advertised by the media, there is a whole public presentation and they try to intimidate me, but I don't think that is the mechanism that is going to affect my independence. I cannot deny that it is uncomfortable because that should not happen in the rule of law. If that happened in some other country, I think the consequences and procedures to put things in their place would be different, but we are in Guatemala and we are fighting to make things different. If I have to open a gap on the subject, here I am and I will continue to do my best.

P. There are judges and prosecutors who have decided to go into exile. Judge Erika Aifán has denounced that her own collaborators have stolen files to delay processes and former judge Claudia Escobar has said that some colleagues did not drink water in public places for fear of being poisoned. Are you afraid?

R. I am not afraid because if I had not been in court and I would not have dared to participate with knowledge of how things work in my country. But I do not frequent public places as a security measure that I owe to myself and I also try not to expose any member of my family.

P. Faced with this situation, Guatemalans protest in two ways: in the streets, such as the demonstrations that led to the departure of Otto Pérez Molina or those last year in Congress. Or leaving the country. Many migrate because they do not see hope that things will change. What message would you send them?

R. The message that I am giving with my behavior and my participation is that there is hope because when there is no longer hope then people I think they can fall into very strong emotional states. I am convinced that things can change, but that we can all participate. The very fact that I am doing this interview that I don't usually do because I don't like to expose myself publicly is like a way of starting to speak from my own space. I believe that we all have the right to speak and act, each one from their own activities. I am doing my job and I think there are many actors at the national level: from the person who has the best condition when he says: "This is not right and I am going to take it to the Court and I hope the Court will resolve it correctly." We do have to hope that things can improve in Guatemala.

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