After virtually guaranteeing that Rios Montt will not be tried again before he dies, his defenders are sending a warning to those who dare try to serve justice. Claudia Paz y Paz, the star attorney general was/is being forced out of her position seven months before her term ended. Now, the presiding judge in the Rios Montt case, Yasmin Barrios, has been suspended for a year for ¨humiliating ¨ a defense lawyer during the trial.
In February, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ruled that Claudia Paz y Paz’s tenure would end earlier than expected. Because she replaced one of Guatemala’s normal (i.e. terrible and incompetent) Attorneys General, the court said that she should complete his term, and not start her own four-year term. It was hard to argue that the decision wasn’t political. From Mike Allison at the time:
¨Her removal looks pretty shady. Two internal court reports had previously determined that the AG’s term should end in December. The individuals who wrote those reports, however, were then removed from their positions.¨
Her removal was also seen through the lens of upcoming elections next year. With her out, there was less (no) risk that they might be charged with any of their corrupt dealings before the election.
The suspension of Yasmin Barrios, the presiding judge in the Rios Montt case, however, is striking for its pettiness. She was accused of ¨showing a lack of respect¨ or ¨humiliating¨ one of Rios Montt’s lawyers. In a recent interview, Barrios discusses some of the absurdities. She was suspended by the Ethics Board, but it is the Disciplinary Board that has the authority to hand out sentences to judges and she was already cleared by them.
Judge Barrios had this to say about the effect of her suspension:
¨Judicial independence and the rule of law should be respected in our country. Punishing honest judges through illegal mechanisms shouldn’t be allowed because it deteriorates the justice system. No judge should be punished for his or her resolutions. Procedural appeals exist to respond to displeasure over a resolution.
Judicial independence is a guarantee, not just for the judge, but so that the Guatemalan people can count on honest and dignified judges, to whom they can present their cases and be assured they are tried with adherence to the Constitution and the law without favoritisms, neither economic nor political. It is a guarantee for the people before it is a guarantee for the judge.¨
Oh Guatemala. If only your authorities were as good at dealing with narcotrafficking and corrupt politicians as they are with honest judges.