Thursday, October 16, 2014

A courageous APOLITICAL act

On Sunday October 5, 2014 in a courageous apolitical act, Dr Claudia Escobar resigned and denounced the corruption in the Guatemalan judiciary system.

Not interested or involved in politics
This post is off topic, but it is of very dearly personal interest to me and I appreciate you the reader for taking a couple of minutes to read through.
Oscar Escobar

   This is one of the very few articles in English about the current judiciary system crisis in Guatemala highlighted by Claudia Escobar (My cousin!) and what's at stake.
It is from the The Canal, a blog from THE PANAMPOST.

La versión en español de este artículo se encuentra aquí:

Batalla por tribunales de Guatemala pone en juego a la democracia

Democracy at Stake in Battle for Guatemala’s Courts

Judge Escobar Mejía's Voice at the Forefront of Weeding Out Corruption

By Luis Eduardo Barrueto+
Guatemala's recently elected Appeals Court judge, Claudia Escobar Mejía, resigned her port and denounced corrupt election practices that favor the ruling party.
Guatemala’s recently elected Appeals Court judge, Claudia Escobar Mejía, resigned her post and denounced corrupt election practices that favor the ruling party. (Diario Digital)
Claudia Escobar Mejía, a recently elected magistrate to the Appeals Courts in Guatemala, stirred up the country on October 5 by resigning her post and publicly denouncing irregularities in the election process that favored the ruling party. What was brought to light as an unusually corrupt compromise — even for local standards — wouldn’t have captured national attention if not for her clear, denouncing voice.+
Her brave act has triggered public opinion and legal action, and is now awaiting the Constitutional Court’s resolution, on which the future of democracy in Guatemala depends.+
A few years ago, the Postulation Commission reformed the election process by introducing an attempt to make the election more transparent, and to further the inclusion of allegedly apolitical groups, including practicing lawyers and universities.+
Anyone with the official requirements can apply for the job. The 34-member commission then selects 26 semi-finalists, from which Congress will pick the 13 judges to be granted a seat at the Supreme Court, as well as other lesser appointments. These magistrates effectively become the leaders of the judicial system for a period of five years. Not subject to an effective system of checks and balances, they are, in fact, the men at the steering wheel of a country that’s only been a formal democracy since 1985.+
Several media outlets and journalists brought to light an unusual agreement between the ruling Patriotic Party (PP), and the main opposition party, Renewed Democratic Liberty (LIDER), to influence the outcome of the election by recommending members of the Postulation Commission who to nominate.+
Formerly antagonists, PP party leaders improvised an alliance with LIDER due to the untimely breakup of a previous pact of three parties, which had proved useful in the election of representatives to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) in March 2014. The coalition broke after those very representatives suspended PP and its leader, current Vice President Roxanna Baldetti, for up to six months.+
Baldetti responded on two fronts: first, she presented a legal recourse at the Appeals Court in which Escobar was an appointed judge. However, the formal complaint she presented before the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN-sponsored technical body, details how PP Congressman Gudy Rivera pressured her to rule in favor of the vice president, in exchange for certainty of her reelection.+
Second, and most importantly, Baldetti scrambled to find a new pact to guarantee the magistrate election would be favorable to her party. She then made an awkward proposal to her former political enemy, LIDER founder and presidential candidate Manuel Baldizón. LIDER had to pull some strings, but could elect four out of 13 magistrates, effectively obtaining veto capabilities to block any trial interposed against them in the next five years.+
In sum, the vice president sold the system of justice in exchange for a simple majority (the remaining nine posts in the court). Independent of the result in the upcoming election of 2015, in which PP and Lider are the main contenders, these strange bedfellows covered themselves with the blanket of impunity.+
None of the deans of professional lawyers, nor the university deans involved in the Postulation Commission, spoke out about any of this. They were complicit in their silence. It took Judge Escobar’s brave voice to mobilize public opinion and embolden the practicing lawyers to take a stance for justice.+
On her call, different judges and magistrates discussed the prospects for annulling the election process carried by the Postulation Commission. On October 3, the civil society group Citizen Action presented the court with the first legal resource against the election.+
On October 7, others followed their steps. Their arguments, presented at the Constitutional Court (CC), is based on the elected magistrates’ lack of compliance with the main requirements to opt into office, as specified by the Judicial Career Law. They were allegedly elected in spite of the lack of requirements due to the convenience this posed for the official and the main opposing parties.+
Another legal device was presented by the Center for the Defense of the Constitution (CEDECON), which made the case for abrogating the election on the basis of a violation of the division of powers. Over 60 judges publicly showed support for repeating the election.+
Given this amount of public scrutiny, the CC needs to resolve this with justice in mind. A provisional ruling points in this direction, but political interests will not give in so smoothly. A hopeful precedent exists: the CC blockaded a similarly corrupt election process for Attorney General five years ago, and Escobar Mejia’s public statement has galvanized public opinion both online and in several demonstrations in front of the CC headquarters in Guatemala City.+
Given that the current elected body of magistrates will favor both of the main incumbent candidates for the following election, what’s at stake is the country’s legal system. It may sink even further in the deep seas of impunity.+
In any case, it will be necessary to have a broader discussion that the creation of the Postulation Commissions didn’t solve: without independently elected magistrates, justice perils at the hand of low politics.+
Luis Eduardo Barrueto is a journalist from Guatemala. He studies in the Erasmus Mundus masters program in journalism, media, and globalization in London, United Kingdom. Follow @lebarrueto.
Originally here:

Update Oct 31 2014

As fallout from this situation, on October 21 the officialism party was poised to lose, not only the congressional presidency but also was in danger of being left out of the congressional directive altogether and congress was poised to name a commission to investigate Gudy Rivera.  All this was avoided when a large group of protestors though to be directed by the officialism party violently blocked opposition congressmen from entering congress. 
Trifulca entre manifestantes, diputados y personal del Congreso deja varios lesionados

On October 29, Gudy Rivera presented his own articles of impeachment as retaliation against Claudia Escobar.
Diputado Gudy Rivera presenta antejuicio contra magistrada 

That same day the congress elects the 2015 directive and congressional president,  backed by the officialism party.
Diputados eligen directiva del 2015 /Congreso_de_la_republica-eleccion-junta_directiva_0_1239476269.html 

On October 30 Claudia Escobar presented her case at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
and also spoke at The Center for International Law CEJIL:
Brown bag lunch con la magistrada guatemalteca Claudia Escobar

Other readings

Civil Society, Judges Team Up Against Judicial Corruption in Guatemala

Added Oct. 18, 2014
Guatemala Judge Slams Corrupt Selection Process

Following Outcry, Guatemala Suspends Election of High Court Judges

Voto disedente - Dissenting Vote

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Voto disedente - Dissenting Vote

Ver el discurso de renuncia y covertura en español abajo.
See spanish language resignation speech and coverage below.

Claudia Escobar (my cousin!) publicly resigns as judge in Guatemala just days after being re-elected to a new 5 year term  having cited irregularities from the beginning of the election process.
She also had (cast) the only dissenting vote on granting the vice president of  Guatemala (Roxana Baldetti) an appeal she had presented to her suspension.
Claudia is a brave, accomplished and principled (law) judicial professional woman who deserves all the respect, admiration and support. And judging by the reactions, she is getting just that.
Congratulation Claudia... you are source of pride and a great example to follow not only for the family, but for a whole country!

Update Oct 12, 2014

To all our friends and family:
Please keep my cousin Dr. Claudia Escobar and her family in your prayers.
Claudia is, together with some of her colleagues, leading the fight against the corruption in the judicial system in Guatemala.
She is the judge that after being re-elected to a new 5 year term resigned in protest and denounced the corruption plaguing the judicial election process (which has been co-opted by the ruling parties). (See separation of powers).

"I am a Judge and I have been elected to a new period of five years. But given the seriousness of the corruption in the process, the respect due the office to which I was elected and respect for the people of Guatemala, after a long and painful process of discernment and reflection I resign.
I publicly resign to the office to which I have been elected, for the sole reason that the Guatemalan people have the right to have their judges COMPLETELY independent and impartial." - Claudia Escobar Mejia
A little background:
The vice-president of Guatemala and her political party were suspended by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal for breaking the elections rules set forth by the Guatemalan Constitution. The vice-president Roxana Baldetti then filed an appeal which was to be reviewed by the Fifth Appellate Court, where Claudia Escobar serves as Magistrate.
Days before the date of the court ruling, and the subsequent judicial election Claudia Escobar was approached by a ruling party (Partido Patriota) congressman, Gudy Rivera, who tried to pressure her into voting to grant the appeal.
In the end, the court ruled in favor of the vice president's appeal, with Claudia Escobar the only one voting against it.
Given the nature of Guatemalan insecurity this decision by Claudia Escobar, and her subsequent resignation and denouncements have been hailed by the majority of the country, the media and internationally as a courageous and ethical act and is gaining as a catalyst for a reform movement.
So please keep her, her family and the people of Guatemala in prayer during this challenging times.
God Bless,
Jocelyn y Oscar Escobar
Ps. The coverage in English has been very scant, but here is a web site with some reporting.

Civil Society, Judges Team Up Against Judicial Corruption in Guatemala
Oct 9, 2014

The Constitutionality Court suspends election of magistrates!
(This is very close to one of Dr. Claudia Escobar requests cited in her resignation speech). Also her calls for international support, and intervention from the human rights ombudsman are being heeded! Even Rudy Giuliani ex mayor of New York city, whom was visiting the country, has come out in support of her cause!

Top Guatemalan Court Suspends Judicial Appointments
Oct. 10, 2014


 Voto disidente de la Magistrada Claudia Escobar Mejia

More coverage in spanish:

Magistrada renuncia a elección y denuncia anomalías en proceso de postulación

Surgen reacciones tras renuncia de magistrada Escobar

Insólito y ejemplar gesto de la doctora Escobar (Oct 6, 2014)

Muchas gracias Claudia 

 WOLA Washington Office on Latin America:

Los procesos de selección judicial en Guatemala no respetaron estándares internacionales

(Oct 7, 2014)

Dos exhortaciones con mucha solidez
Oct 8, 2014

Magistrado intentó intimidar a jueces que apoyaron a Claudia Escobar

Escobar presenta pruebas ante la CICIG; Rivera presionó a favor de R. Baldetti
Oct 9, 2014 

Corte de Constitucionalidad suspende elección de magistrados
Oct 9, 2014

Pronunciamiento del Procurador de los Derechos Humanos con relación al proceso de las comisiones de postulación

Comunicado PDH (Procurador de los Derechos Humanos) - Proceso de elección de magistrados a las Salas de Apelaciones y Corte Suprema de Justicia

Muy orgulloso de mi prima Claudia Escobar Mejia, Juez de la sala quinta de apelaciones en Guatemala.

Claudia aclara de que apezar de reportes que afirman lo contrario, ella razono su voto encontra el amparo otorgado a la Vicepresidente de la republica, la senora Roxana Baldetti:

"El día de hoy trasendió en los medios de comunicación, que en la Sala V donde actualmente ejerzco judicatura se otorgó el Amparo a favor de la señora Roxana Baldetti; un día antes a ser electos por el Congreso de la República; por lo que considero necesario aclarar que en dicha resolución, razone mi voto, manifestando en contra del mismo."


Update Oct 7, 2014

Discurso completo de la Dra. Claudia Escobar
Domingo 5 de Octubre de 2014

Buenos Días señores y señoras, gracias por estar presentes el día de hoy.
Decidí dedicar mi vida profesional como juez porque estoy convencida que solo a través de la justicia podemos alcanzar el desarrollo, la libertad y la convivencia en paz que tanto anhelamos los guatemaltecos.
Un Juez es la persona que tiene en sus manos la posibilidad de resolver problemas simples que surgen en la convivencia entre vecinos, entre familiares, en el trabajo, así como los problemas serios y delicados entre grandes intereses económicos. A través de su labor, un juez mantiene la paz social y se garantiza la libertad.
Ingresé a la Carrera Judicial, por el sistema de oposición como Juez de instancia. Actualmente me desempeño como Magistrada de la Corte de Apelaciones y como funcionaría judicial he jurado defender la constitución y las leyes de mi país. De acuerdo a lo que establece el artículo 60 de la Ley de la Carrera Judicial, tengo la obligación de denunciar cualquier inquietud o perturbación en mi independencia. Por lo que en nombre de muchos jueces que por represalias, tienen temor a denunciar, hago del conocimiento de la Corte Suprema de Justicia que las irregularidades que se configuraron en los procesos de selección y elección de magistrados ponen en alto riesgo la independencia judicial de todos los jueces, lo cual como consecuencia:
Afecta nuestra seguridad.
Porque el sistema judicial es vital para combatir la delincuencia que tanto nos oprime como guatemaltecos.
Afecta nuestro bienestar.
Porque solo con jueces independientes y probos podemos combatir la corrupción y poder así construir un Estado que verdaderamente trabaje por la gente buena de este país.
Afecta nuestro futuro.
Y el de nuestro hijos, el de nuestras familias, porque la labor de Organismo Judicial es vital para alcanzar un sociedad que pueda vivir en paz y en libertad.
Reconozco que para vivir en libertad, los juzgadores debemos actuar con transparencia y apegados a la verdad, así podremos recuperar la confianza en la Justicia.
Estoy muy orgullosa de ser juez, de la labor que desempeño y de compartir con jueces profesionales que viven los valores de libertad, transparencia y justicia. Jueces que día a día dictan sentencias apegados a su conciencia y respetando la ley, llegando incluso a arriesgar su vida por ello. Son funcionarios judiciales que sirven a la justicia y no se sirven de ella. Algunos de estos jueces fueron nombrados como magistrados y tienen el legítimo derecho de optar a cargos públicos y ser electos.
Sin embargo, los procesos que llevaron a cabo las Comisiones de Postulación, deslegitiman su nombramiento, porque esos procesos están plagados de irregularidades. Algunas de las anomalías han sido denunciadas públicamente por medios de comunicación, otras por los propios candidatos, o por las organizaciones de la sociedad civil y por los ciudadanos; sin embargo todas han sido desoídas.
La principal ilegalidad consiste en que las Comisiones ignoraron el cumplimiento de la Ley de la Carrera Judicial y por lo tanto NO garantizan a los guatemaltecos que los jueces electos gozarán de la independencia mínima e indispensable para impartir justicia.
George Washington, afirmaba que “Cuando la política entra por la puerta de las Cortes, la Justicia sale por la ventana.” El proceso de selección de Magistrados, esta viciado y esto afecta directamente a todos los guatemaltecos. Es un proceso perverso, que convirtió el nombramiento de funcionarios en un botín político.
Soy Magistrada y he sido electa para un nuevo período de otros cinco años. Pero ante la gravedad de los vicios en el proceso, por el respeto que merece el cargo para el que fui electa y por respeto al pueblo de Guatemala, después de un largo y doloroso proceso de discernimiento y reflexión renuncio.
Renuncio públicamente al cargo para el que he sido electa, por la única y exclusiva razón que el pueblo de Guatemala tiene el derecho a que sus jueces y magistrados sean TOTALMENTE independientes e imparciales.
Como dijera Shirin Ebadi, reconocida defensora de la Independencia Judicial y premio Nobel de la Paz:
“Si la ley no existe, la vida de las personas no vale nada.”
Por eso hoy hago un llamado de conciencia a mis colegas Jueces; a todos y cada uno de los jueces de la República de Guatemala, a los jueces dignos y honorables: A los jueces de paz que trabajan en condiciones extremas y en horarios agotadores; A los jueces de instancia; a los magistrados de apelaciones que hoy ejercen judicatura; Especialmente a los magistrados de la Corte Suprema de Justicia; para que no permitan el asalto a la Justicia, que es el pilar en el que se sostiene todo Estado constitucional y democrático de Derecho.
NO somos el primer país en que se corre el riesgo de perder la independencia judicial, pero hoy somos nosotros los funcionarios judiciales, los responsables de exigir el respeto a la Constitución y a los derechos que se refieren a la Independencia Judicial y la división de poderes.
La falta de división de poderes es el primer elemento de una autentica dictadura, por eso pido a todos los ciudadanos guatemaltecos; a los distintos sectores de la sociedad guatemalteca, entre ellos a las universidades del país; a los colegios profesionales; a las diversas cámaras que impulsan el desarrollo y la economía de nuestra nación; a la sociedad organizada, que se pronuncien en contra de la forma en que fueron electos los magistrados de las Cortes.
A la comunidad internacional solicito nos acompañe en estos momentos de crisis institucional que ponen en riesgo nuestra democracia. Especialmente a las asociaciones de jueces iberoamericanos para que nos respaldan y apoyo.
Solicito la intervención del Procurador de los Derechos Humanos y le pido que tome las acciones legales correspondientes, a fin de garantizar el desarrollo de
un proceso transparente, en el que se privilegie la elección de los funcionarios mas idóneos y aptos para el cargo, en consecuencia que se respeten las normas establecidas en la Ley de la Carrera Judicial.
Requiero a la Honorable Corte de Constitucionalidad, que resuelva los recursos pendientes, declarando la nulidad del proceso y ordenando de inmediato una prorroga de los plazos a los funcionarios actualmente en ejercicio en las Cortes Suprema de Justicia y Cortes de Apelaciones.
Por Guatemala espero que las autoridades actúen como les manda la ley. El pueblo de Guatemala lo merece y lo exige, por eso los jueces debemos tomar acción y hacer todo lo que este en nuestras manos para evitar que se nos arrebate nuestra independencia judicial.

Other readings:

A courageous APOLITICAL act
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A #Geoengineering #Climate Issues blog - Geoingeniería by Oscar and Jocelyn Escobar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.Licencia Creative Commons
A #Geoengineering #Climate Issues blog por Oscar y Jocelyn Escobar se distribuye bajo una Licencia Creative Commons Atribución-NoComercial 4.0 Internacional.