8/12/16: Central America – Challenges Facing Rule of Law and the Risks Faced by Legal Practitioners

The All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG) held a meeting, in conjunction with the Law Society and PBI UK, on 8 December to discuss the challenges facing rule of law in Guatemala and Honduras, and the risks facing legal practitioners in Central America.

The speakers were:

  • Adán Guillermo López Lone, a Honduran judge removed from office after the 2009 coup and currently the Coordinator of the Technical Office of the Association of Judges for Democracy (AJD) – (AL); and,
  • Ramon Cadena Ramila, Guatemalan, human rights lawyer and Director of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in Central America – (RR).

The main points raised were as follows:

  • There has been an increase in human rights violations in Guatemala for a number of reasons, including tensions generated by the current prosecution of violations committed during the armed conflict; the opposition to economic development plans, resulting in the arbitrary detention of community leaders who are against the presence of transnational companies in their areas and the criminalisation of protestors more generally; and a backlash against work being done to challenge impunity, including that undertaken by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). (RR)
  • Those working on transitional justice and those working against powerful economic interests are being identified and threatened. Judges and lawyers, are also being pressured and intimidated; he personally faces security challenges and has been provided with a personal security detail. (RR)
  • Impunity now is rooted in the impunity of the past. The main challenge at the national level is the fight against impunity. CICIG has played an important role in this regard, and if it leaves, the country is likely to go backwards. (RR)
  • In Honduras, there are similar protection challenges facing HRDs, despite an HRD protection law having been adopted this year. The murder of Berta Caceres illustrates the risks. The murders of HRDs has continued since, and no one has been held accountable. (AL)
  • It would be helpful if the international community could encourage the Honduran Government to take HRD protection more seriously. (AL)
  • The judicial system is weak, particularly since the 2009 coup, and authoritarianism in Honduras is growing. The elections set for 2017 could present further challenges. (AL)
  • As regards his own case and that of colleagues, the Inter-American Court has called for judges who opposed the coup and were then dismissed to be compensated and reinstated. The state is resisting reinstatement and the Inter-American Court has therefore been asked to determine if the Government has complied with the verdict. (AL)
  • In dealing with conflict and violations in connection with economic activity, it is important to have an inclusive dialogue, with HRD protection guaranteed and the involvement of independent international moderators. (RR)

The PHRG will continue to follow developments in Guatemala and Honduras and raise concerns with related interlocutors. It will also consider follow-up activity with others to highlight the need to do more to protect those working to promote and protect the rule of law in their countries, such as judges and lawyers.