LatinNews Daily - 10 February 2022

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GUATEMALA: CSJ moves against high-profile judge

On 9 February Guatemala’s supreme court (CSJ) announced it had stripped Pablo Xitumul, a judge in a high-risk court, of his immunity from prosecution.

Analysis:

Xitumul is an internationally respected judge. The CSJ’s move against him, which relates to a traffic-related incident dating back to 2019, will reignite concerns that the discredited attorney general’s office, whose head María Consuelo Porras, was sanctioned last year by the US for obstructing investigations into corruption, and other institutions are targeting figures associated with the fight against corruption. It will subject the government led by President Alejandro Giammettei to further criticism for its perceived backsliding in anti-impunity efforts.

  • According to local press reports, in February 2019 police (PNC) officials stopped Xitumul’s car near his house and demanded to search it. A struggle then ensued after he refused, demanding to know why. He and a PNC officer subsequently reported each other to the authorities for abuse of authority.
  • Xitumul is president of one of Guatemala’s high-risk courts which were created in 2009 to ensure the personal safety of judicial actors involved in cases related to grave crimes. He was one of the judges who in 2013 convicted former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983) of genocide in relation to the country’s 1960-1996 civil war, (a conviction subsequently overturned) as well as four senior military officials in the Molina Theissen case in 2018 which also related to the civil war. In October 2018 he also sentenced former Vice President Roxana Baldetti (2012-2015) to 15 years in prison for corruption.
  • Xitumul has previously attributed efforts to lift his immunity as a reprisal for his work. In October 2021, in response to an earlier attempt to strip him of his immunity, over 400 individuals and organisations signed a letter in strong support of him, warning that judicial independence was at risk.
  • In August 2021 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern over ongoing criminalisation of judges in the country’s high-risk courts. It named Xitumul, along with Miguel Angel Gálvez, Iris Yassmín Barrios, and Erika Aifán, all of whom are beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR.

Looking Ahead: The move against Xitumul is likely to be ill-received by the US government which has condemned recent requests to strip Aifán of her immunity from prosecution for crimes including alleged abuse of authority, and could place a further strain on bilateral relations.

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