IACHR Condemns Honduras for Replacing Judges

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By LatAm Reports Editor

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the State of Honduras for the arbitrary and illegal dismissal of 4 judges of the Constitutional Chamber in 2012, after they issued rulings against government projects of then President Porfirio Lobo.

The IACHR issued on Monday, April 1, 2024, a judgement declaring Honduras’ international responsibility for the arbitrary and illegal dismissal of José Antonio Gutiérrez Navas, José Francisco Ruiz Gaekel, Gustavo Enrique Bustillo Palma and Rosalinda Cruz Sequeira of their posts as judges of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice.

The judgement indicates that the State also did not guarantee access to an effective defence remedy and that the State failed to fulfil its duty to investigate the threats and harassment received by the victims of this case, as well as the duty to establish protective measures.

The international court found that the State is responsible for the violation of the right to judicial guarantees, the principle of legality, political rights, judicial protection, the right to work and personal integrity.

A case dating back to 2012

The case dates back to 2012 when the judges declared as unconstitutional government initiatives to create the “model cities” and the “Police Purification Act,” which led to pressure and harassment by government authorities, including the then president of the country, Porfirio Lobo.

Congress set up a special commission to investigate the conduct of the judges on December 10, 2012, the next day issued a report and hours later, in the early morning of the 12th, Congress dismissed the judges without allowing them to defend themselves.

The judges also reported that after his dismissal they suffered persecution, harassment and attacks.

“The dismissal of the victims constituted an act of diversion of power that took place without respecting judicial guarantees, with the aim of exerting external pressure on the judiciary in violation of judicial independence,” says the judgment of the IACHR.

The ruling adds that this diversion of power “had for purposes, moreover, to exert external pressure on the judiciary, modifying its configuration in order to guarantee its future support for decisions promoted by the executive branch.”

At the hearing in this case before the Inter-American Court, held in February 2023, the secretary general of the Honduran Attorney General’s Office, Laura Flores, said that on January 27, 2022, in the inauguration speech, the country’s president, Xiomara Castro, acknowledged that “over the years Honduras has been an oppressive and human rights rapist state and that she abruptly dismissed four judges.”

The representative denied that the State was responsible for violations of the physical integrity of the victims, as it received no complaints of assault, attacks or persecution.

In the judgment notified to the parties on Monday, the Inter-American Court assessed the partial recognition of State responsibility and ordered a series of reparation measures.

These measures include that the State must make a public act of recognition of responsibility, compensate victims and make legislative changes to avoid similar cases.

A precedent for the case of El Salvador

In El Salvador, the five judges of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice were dismissed on May 1, 2021 with votes of New Ideas in the Legislative Assembly.

Constitutionalist lawyers of El Salvador have denounced this fact at both the national and international levels and consider that the judgment of the Inter-American Court for the Honduran case leaves an important precedent for the Salvadoran case.

“In essence, the judgment reiterates and deepens its constant jurisprudence, of more than 15 cases, which indicate the requirements to be observed for the dismissal or dismissal of judges, especially the high courts or higher courts. The judgment indicates that the dismissal without prior trial, without opportunity for defense, for reasons not previously provided for in the Law or questioning the decisions of the Court are a flagrant violation of the American Convention on Human Rights ,” analyzed the constitutionalist Salvador Enrique Anaya.

Counsel told THE GRAPHIC PRENSA that the sentence is very important for El Salvador because of the similarity of what happened in 2012 in Honduras and 2021 in our country.

“This is yet another precedent that confirms to us that the dismissal of the judges of the Constitutional Chamber held by the Legislative Assembly on 1 May 2021 is not only unconstitutional and illegal, but also violated international treaties and jurisprudence. This confirms that we are not in a democracy, but we are in a dictatorship,” Anaya added.

Other lawyers specializing in the constitutional area also argue that this precedent is important for the case they have filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and that it is currently in the process.

This article has been translated from the original which first appeared in La Prensa Grafica