Who is the new human rights attorney in Guatemala?

Who is the new human rights attorney in Guatemala?

Guatemalan lawyer José Alejandro Córdova Herrera took office on Saturday as the new head of the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) for the period 2022-2027.

The new official arrives at the office defending fundamental rights in the Central American country in an environment of extreme polarization and international observance of the country in the face of “institutional and democratic weakening.”

Córdova’s shortlist for the five-year position as head of the department to monitor respect for the guarantees of the rule of law and to point out those actions that public officials or institutions attempt against the citizenry did not go unnoticed in the face of national and international concerns about the course of Guatemala.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington included Guatemala in Chapter 4 –in a recent June report- as the country that joins Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba as the main violators of human rights on the continent.

Such decision unleashed the rejection of President Alejandro Giammattei who in his recent visit to Washington before the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS), of which the IACHR is a part, accused the Commission of “threats and extortion.”

The block of support for the government of Alejandro Giammattei in the National Congress prevailed in the vote in favor of Córdova Herrera, elected with 141 votes out of 152 deputies present in the legislative chamber at the end of July, one month before the end of his mandate. predecessor, Jordán Rodas, an uncomfortable figure for the government in turn.

What doubts persist about the official’s profile?

The appointment process was followed by civil society organizations that have expressed concern that a figure questioned in the investigations carried out by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) identified him as part of a network of alleged corruption, from the year 2012.

And the Pro-Justice Movement of Guatemala argued -according to the country’s media- that the new head of the PDH has been linked to Sergio López Villatoro, “known as the ‘King of Tennis’, for illegally negotiating the formation of the Courts of the Guatemalan Justice System. Córdova Herrera served as magistrate of the Fourth Court of Appeals of the Family branch.

In 2020, the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity (FECI) led by former prosecutor John Francis Sandovalexiled in the United States, pointed out that he was part of the negotiations for the integration of the Courts, together with the pharmaceutical businessman Gustavo Alejos Cámbarra, who is in prison for the case of “Parallel Commissions 2020” a network created to manage to co-opt the System of Justice with controlled voting in all phases of application and election of short lists.

What would be expected from Córdova Herrera’s management at the head of the PDH?

Given the benefit of the doubt in the adjudication of new positions, voices from different sectors of Guatemala have highlighted the importance of the position of Magistrate of conscience who must monitor the actions of officials and institutions in favor of constitutional guarantees.

Others have also seen an opportunity to untangle conflicts that escalated from the office of the former head of the PDH, Jordán Rodas, with actors from the political and economic life of the country. That even kept it under budget constraints.

From the ruling party they see the appointment as accurate, the deputy Anibal Rojas, vice president of the Human Rights Commission of the Congress quoted by Prensa Libre said that they hope that the new prosecutor Córdova breaks the scene “ideologized in the PDH” and that he “watches over the interests of everyone, who truly defends human rights without distinction of ideology”.

And the deputy advanced that the new official “must clean that house” in reference to technical staff who have had affinity with the work of the previous management in the institution, since he must “make those people leave.”

From the Center for National Economic Research (CIEN) they warn that the new head of Human Rights must forget about the deputies who have elected him and assume with full responsibility the constitutional role that the position demands of him.

“He has to distance himself from his voters, forget about the deputies because this has unfortunately resulted in some legislators asking for seats, even other attorneys have complained that they have found the attorney general’s office co-opted,” said Francisco Quezada of that research center.

And from the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala (Ufedegua) they have highlighted as important that the new human rights attorney take priority actions and intervene in the situation in the country.

“I would highlight that the reception and investigation of the complaints is not only a formal act but is an action that seeks to stop the violation of a human right, this may possibly lead him to confront powerful actors and could lead him to confront the groups that were part of the decision to appoint him”, said Jorge Santos of that institution.

The Human Rights Ombudsman has the power to file legal actions to defend collective interests that have an economic and social impact, environmental damage, violations of indigenous peoples, among others.

The constitutional lawyer Mario Fuentes Destarac, also quoted by Prensa Libre, has said that the role of the head of the PDH requires him to carry out “constant surveillance of any public agency” and that he must “supervise and control the different entities, institutions and officials in in terms of human rights, and in the face of anything, channel them before the Public Ministry,” he said.

What are the direct challenges to the appointment of the head of Human Rights?

Some deputies from the opposition bloc in the Guatemalan legislative apparatus did not hesitate to denounce that the selection process for the shortlists and the approval of the commission to elect Córdova Herrera was carried out in an anomalous manner.

In the voting plenary to elect the Human Rights Ombudsman, opposition deputy Sonia Raguay, from the Winaq minority caucus, lamented that the election was held in a “regrettable situation” and that a lack of transparency prevailed.

“We ask that a transparent and public election be held, but there were flaws in the procedure that were not observed by the majority of the members of the commission,” the congresswoman denounced before voting against.

This was also done by the deputy of the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP), Vicenta Jerónimo, who, seeing the process to appoint him as irreversible, said that the only thing left to do was to appeal to the new official so that he would assume his constitutional role and be attached to the interest of the country. .

“What we demand is that the new PDH be attached to his mandate, to the peoples and not to the interests of the mafias,” said the elected official, asking the new official to set aside personal and group interests over the national interest.

With what work plan does Córdova Herrara arrive to monitor human rights in Guatemala?

The new head of the PDH said at his inauguration on Saturday that he assumes the role with full commitment to the country and that the axes of work during his five years in office that would culminate in 2027 will be attached to four key issues.

Since his arrival at the office this Monday, he will promote – as he explained – in the private ceremony attended by President Giammattei, and the heads of Congress and the Judicial System, to strengthen the PDH units to carry out their work more efficiently.

It will create a mechanism for “protection of victims and witnesses of human rights violations.” He also proposed working in a coordinated manner to promote fundamental rights among the population, and promote mechanisms for greater access to public information, and above all he promised not to remain subservient to any other State body.

“The Human Rights Ombudsman must be an objective person, without social bias or political ideology and at no time a platform of any kind. He has to ensure the human rights of all Guatemalans who are inside and outside the country, likewise he will seek a presence throughout the national territory as a field attorney and not a desk attorney, ”said the Human Rights attorney.

Córdova Herrera previously served as head of the PDH Investigations Unit, and main advisor to the General Directorate of the Penitentiary System. He also served as a magistrate of the Appeals Chamber of the criminal and family areas in the Judicial Branch, and was head of international relations of the Guatemalan Institute of Migration (IGM), he has been an advisor to magistrates of the Constitutional Court and a lawyer of the Attorney General’s Office. General of the Nation (PGN), as well as university professor.

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