Guatemala Court decision on former leader accused of rights abuses concerns un expert.

A United Nations expert on the independence of judges and lawyers expressed "grave concern" today over the decision of Guatemala's Constitutional Court to allow a former President accused of committing serious human rights crimes during his tenure to run in presidential elections in November.

The 4-3 split decision of the Court reversed an earlier judgment of the Supreme Court which in turn had affirmed a lower electoral court's decision barring General Efrain Rios Montt from running for President pursuant to article 186(a) of the country's 1985 Constitution. That provision prohibits a "leader or the chiefs of a coup d'etat, armed revolution or similar movement who have altered the constitutional order, or those who as a consequence of such events have assumed the leadership of the government" from the position of President or Vice- President of Guatemala.

General Rios Montt came to power in a military coup in March 1982 and remained as President until August 1983. It was during this period he was alleged to have committed serious human rights abuses.

"It is ironic that the same Constitutional Court had previously decided to bar General Rios Montt's candidacy for the presidential elections in 1990 and 1995, pursuant to the same provision in the Constitution," said Dato' Param Cumaraswamy, the UN Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur. "This latest decision flies in the face not only of previous decisions of the Constitutional Court but also of the specific recommendations I made after my mission to Guatemala in 1999."

The Special Rapporteur had recommended in his report that "all personalities who were known to have committed human rights violations during the armed conflict should be removed from public office and from the military. In any event, those with such a record should not be elected, appointed or recruited for any public office in the future. The continued presence of officials with such a record can be detrimental to and threaten the administration of independent justice."

Today, Mr. Cumaraswamy stated: "This decision also goes counter to all efforts made by civil society in Guatemala and the international community to restore constitutional order and respect for human rights and the rule of law in Guatemala. That the highest Court whose essential function is the defence of the constitutional order of Guatemala could come to such a decision, inconsistent with its own previous decisions, is beyond belief. It certainly calls into question the Courts independence, impartiality and integrity."

[Source: Un News Service, New York, Jul 17 2003]

DDHH in Guatemala

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