Magristrate Jose Vidal Barillas Monzon and Rudy Rocael Pineda

Re: Magristrate Jose Vidal Barillas Monzon and Rudy Rocael Pineda

To: President of Guatemala

From: Heather Neun, LL.B., M.Phil

Date: 2008-07-03

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (“LRWC”) writes to condemn an alarming series of attacks and threats against justice system operators (“los operadores de justicia”) in Guatemala in recent months. LRWC urges the relevant Guatemalan authorities to fully investigate these incidents and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice. LRWC calls on the Guatemalan authorities to provide adequate protection to justice system operators who have been or may be subject to threats or attacks.

The latest serious incidents occurred in May 2008, beginning on May 8th with the assassination of Magistrate José Vidal Barillas Monzón, president of the Regional Chamber of Joint Appeals in the Department of Retalhuleu, followed on May 20th by the assassination of Rudy Rocael Pineda, District Prosecutor of Chiquimula. Both killings were carried out by unidentified individuals. According to the International Commission of Jurists, there are reasonable grounds for believing that both men’s murders are linked to the performance of their duties.

Magistrate Barillas was involved in a number of “high impact cases”, including one in which five people (captured in Cuyotenango) were accused of drug trafficking. He was also involved in an antejuicio against the departmental mayor of Retalhuleu, Marilú Hidalgo.

We understand that Mr. Pineda had been investigating a child prostitution ring in which former chiefs and police agents of the Policía Nacional Civil (Civil National Police) were involved. In addition, he had received threats from a group of policemen linked to the deaths of five people in the village of El Jute on June 14, 2007; the trial in that case began a few days before Mr. Pineda’s death. We also understand that Mr. Pineda had received phone calls over the last several months from a phone number in the headquarters of the Civil National Police in Chiquimula, as well as threats from a local prison.

LRWC is also extremely concerned about the recent complaints of intimidation lodged by Judge Eduardo Cojulum of the Eleventh Court of First Instance Criminal. On May 20, 2008, Judge Cojulum reported having received death threats on the weekend of May 17-18 and being warned to desist from participating in this case. These threats came soon after the completion of hearings into the testimony of survivors and witnesses of massacres by the army during the internal armed conflict. This testimony, which began on April 18 and ended on May 15, was heard at the request of the Audiencia Nacional Hispaniola in the genocide case against seven senior former military officers. Following the hearing, Judge Cojolum reported to the Guatemalan government that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute, based on witness testimony about the massacres in Plan de Sanchez and Black River, in Rabinal, as well as the occupation and burning of the Spanish Embassy in 1981.

LRWC further notes that the pattern of increased attacks against justice system operators extends back to December 2007 when a judge of the Court of First Criminal Case, Fausto Rene Maldonado Torres of Quetzaltenango was killed. There have also been threats against judges of the Court of Appeal Joint Chamber Jalapa (la Corte de Apelaciones de la Sala Mixta de Jalapa ), Zina Elizabeth Giordano and Antilvia Monzon, as well as the judge of First Instance Criminal Jutiapa, Ericka Aifán.

LRWC is alarmed by a recent report of the Fiscalía de Delitos contra los Operadores de Justicia (Prosecutor’s Office for Abuses against Justice Operators), that there have been nineteen known cases of threats against prosecutors and eleven against judges in 2008. This exceeds the number of threats in 2007 by 10 percent.

The recent events in Guatemala are further confirmation of the near complete state of impunity in Guatemala and the evident links between illegal and clandestine security apparatuses and members of such state bodies as the Policía Nacional Civil.

It is clear that individuals who are committed to identifying and clarifying the human rights violations during the internal armed conflict, as well as prosecuting major crimes, are being systematically targeted by powerful interests that seek to obstruct justice and remain above the law. The situation makes it almost impossible for judges, prosecutors and lawyers to carry out their functions.

Requested Actions

The independence of the Guatemalan judiciary as well as the protection of the judiciary (and justice system auxiliaries) from pressure, threat or attack, is a fundamental obligation of all states, including Guatemala. These fundamental principles are entrenched in numerous international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Basic Principles on the Independence of Judiciary. Coercive pressure, death threats and direct attacks on the life and security of judges, prosecutors and lawyers in Guatemala can only be regarded as the most serious breach of Guatemala’s international obligations. This situation goes to the heart of the current crisis in Guatemala’s justice system, in terms of the extreme levels of impunity and the inability of the state to uphold the rule of law.

LRWC calls on the Guatemalan authorities to carry our impartial, independent and thorough investigations of those responsible for these attacks and threats against operators of justice.

In specific terms, LRWC calls on the Prosecutor for Human Rights to investigate these incidents and identify those responsible so that they do not go unpunished.

LRWC also joins the call by the Guatemalan Association of Judges and Magistrates for Guatemalan authorities to redouble their efforts to protect judges and other justice system operators that have been or may be subjected to threats.

We look forward to hearing from you about the Guatemalan Government’s response to these most serious cases.