Last Friday, the Honor Tribunal of the Association of Lawyers and Notaries of Guatemala (Tribunal de Honor del Colegio de Abogados y Notarios de Guatemala, CANG) issued a resolution dated January 9, 2014, in which they ruled to temporarily suspend Judge Yassmin Barrios from practicing law for one year. Judge Barrios presides over the High Risk Tribunal A, where she oversaw the trial against retired generals José Mauricio Rodríguez and José Efraín Ríos Montt. They faced charges of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Ixil community.
The decision of the Honor Tribunal stems from a complaint filed by the attorney Moisés Galindo, defense counsel for José Mauricio Rodríguez. On March 19, 2013, the High Risk Tribunal A ordered Galindo to assume the technical defense of Ríos Montt due to a variety of delaying tactics caused by Ríos Montt’s lawyers. Galindo disagreed with the decision of the Tribunal, and accused Judge Barrios before the CANG of disrespecting and publicly humiliating him.
The CANG Honor Tribunal heard Galindo’s arguments and concluded that Judge Barrios had gravely violated the rules of professional ethics.
To the undersigned organizations, the decision of the Honor Tribunal runs contrary to international standards which guarantee judicial independence. In the first place, the stated entity does not have the power to judge the actions of judicial personnel. In accordance with Guatemalan law, the only body which has jurisdiction over the actions of judges is the Judicial Disciplinary Board, which had already heard the complaint filed by Galindo and resolved to dismiss it.
Furthermore, the professional nature of the Tribunal, which is a collective of lawyers, does not allow for independence or impartiality; these two characteristics are essential for all disciplinary bodies.
Considering the above, it is concerning that the Honor Tribunal has punished Judge Barrios without having the authority to do so. To execute this decision would violate judicial independence and the State of Guatemala could be subject to international liability.
The undersigned organizations believe that the Honor Tribunal´s decision is part of a greater context of harassment and persecution that Judge Barrios has suffered for her role in the genocide proceedings. In this regard, we urge the competent Guatemalan authorities to reverse the decision to suspend Judge Barrios, and the Supreme Court to refrain from considering such a decision and instead send a clear message of support for the judge’s work as a sign of unconditional defense of judicial independence in this country.
Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (GHRC)
Due Process and Law Foundation (DPLF)
Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI)
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)