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Guatemala: Attorney General’s Reappointment Threatens Rights

Guatemala: Attorney General’s Reappointment Threatens Rights

(New York) – Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei’s decision to reappoint Consuelo Porras as attorney general poses a serious risk to human rights and the rule of law in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. Concerned governments should immediately condemn the move and sanction individuals, including from the private sector, who are undermining the rule of law in Guatemala. President Giammattei announced his reappointment of Porras on May 16, 2022, to serve for another four years. During her initial four years in office, Porras has undermined investigations into corruption and human rights abuses, and brought arbitrary criminal proceedings against journalists, judges, and prosecutors. “Porras’ reappointment could be a fatal blow to the rule of law and the fight against corruption in Guatemala,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, acting Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Concerned governments, including from the United States, Europe, and Latin America, should urgently increase their scrutiny and take robust action to protect Guatemala’s democratic institutions.” The appointment process, which began in January, was marred by several attempts by government authorities and the Foundation against Terrorism (Fundación contra el Terrorismo), a right-wing nongovernmental organization that supported Porras’ re-election, to undermine its fairness, including their efforts to erode the nominating commission’s independence. On April 22, the nominating commission presented its short list of six candidates to President Giammattei. In an initial review of her record, the commission gave Porras high marks, but commissioners later received and analyzed allegations that she had plagiarized her doctoral thesis, as well as concerns about her actions undermining corruption investigations. As a result, in multiple rounds of voting, she did not receive sufficient votes to be nominated. However, the Constitutional Court on April 22 ordered the commissioners “immediately” to submit a list reflecting “meritocratic criteria,” which appears to have led members of the commission to change their votes to include Porras, despite the many concerns about her qualifications. Human Rights Watch traveled to Guatemala in January to examine the work of the Attorney General’s Office under Porras. Human Rights Watch interviewed 45 people, some by phone before and after the visit.

They included 13 former or current prosecutors and 6 former or current judges, as well as several journalists, human rights defenders, and victims’ lawyers. To investigate specific cases during Porras’ tenure, Human Rights Watch also reviewed criminal files and other judicial documents. Attorney General Porras did not respond to a request for information. Human Rights Watch documented Porras’ transfer, firing, or, in some cases, arbitrary criminal investigations of independent prosecutors who were leading investigations or prosecutions of corruption and human rights violations.

The cases included the firing of Juan Francisco Sandoval, head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad, FECI), and the transfers of Stuardo Campos, former head of the Attorney General Office’s anti-corruption unit, and Hilda Pineda, head of the Attorney General Office’s human rights unit. Prosecutors and lawyers with knowledge of the cases told Human Rights Watch that such transfers slowed investigations into human rights violations and high-level corruption scandals. Prosecutors said the fear of being transferred, the removal in some cases of measures to protect their security, and requirements for Porras’ inner circle to endorse their decisions interfered with their work. Under Porras, the Attorney General’s Office promoted spurious criminal proceedings against independent judges, prosecutors, and journalists. Victims of seemingly abusive prosecutions have included, among others: Attorney General Porras has taken Guatemala several steps back in the fight against corruption and in efforts to ensure accountability for human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said. In previous years, investigations by the CICIG and the Attorney General’s Office had exposed corruption schemes in all three branches of government, but the administration of former President Jimmy Morales shuttered the CICIG in 2018. In September 2021, the United States included Porras – and her assistant Ángel Pineda – in its Undemocratic and Corrupt Actors List, popularly known as the “Engel list,” saying that they had “obstructed investigations into acts of corruption by interfering with criminal investigations.” After her reappointment, the US designated her and her husband, Gilberto de Jesus Porres de Paz, ineligible for entry into the country for “involvement in significant corruption.” The European Uunion spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy said her reappointment “raises concerns about the commitment of the Guatemalan authorities to tackle corruption and safeguard the independence of the judiciary.” The US, European countries, and others should expand sanctions against people, including businesspeople, who are actively engaged in efforts to undermine the Attorney General’s Office’s independence and to dismantle the rule of law, Human Rights Watch said.

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