Guatemalan Congress must address indigenous justice, judicial selection in Constitutional Reforms

February 15, 2017

Today the Guatemalan Congress was scheduled to vote on a proposed set of Constitutional reforms, which seek to address a range of issues including the status of indigenous justice systems (pluralismo juridico) and high court selection processes. These proposed reforms are based on a months-long civil society dialogue, led by CICIG and the Attorney General’s office. The legislature previously began to vote on similar reforms in late 2016, but the process fell apart.

Unfortunately, a similar scenario unfolded today, as members of Congress could not reach agreement on the procedure to follow for considering the various versions of the Constitutional amendment to Article 203, regarding pluralismo juridico. Enough members walked out in protest that quorum was lost and the session had to be adjourned.  Some Congress members apparently opposed the presence of indigenous community representatives in the chamber, and others reported that new versions of the amendment were circulating that had not previously been discussed.

Congress must not continue to let down the Guatemalan people. It should pass a comprehensive set of reforms that would provide for equal access to justice for all Guatemalans, including indigenous peoples; and an independent, depoliticized judiciary via new merit-based selection processes.

DPLF believes that an amendment regarding pluralismo juridico should be adopted that recognizes and respects the validity of indigenous justice as co-equal with ordinary law, as long as it does not conflict with international human rights law or the Constitution. This would bring Guatemala into line with international standards, as well as with many other countries in the Americas that have successfully integrated indigenous justice systems into their broader legal framework.

DPLF also urges the Guatemalan Congress to pass reforms regarding selection processes for high courts. Consensus was reached via last year’s consultations that universities should no longer be involved in nominating justices, as such involvement has contributed to the intense politicization of selection processes. Accordingly, we are concerned that the current proposal under consideration by Congress would re-integrate universities into the selection process for the Constitutional Court. We also urge Congress to ensure that all selection processes, including for the proposed Judicial Council, are merit-based, rather than based on a lottery as currently envisioned in certain amendments.

DPLF and other local and international organizations are closely monitoring the Constitutional reform process. We call upon Congress to carefully consider the proposals, and to pass a set of reforms that comply with international standards and guarantee justice for all Guatemalans