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UN rights office welcomes constitutional justice reforms in Guatemala

[JURIST] The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] in a press briefing [text] on Friday welcomed the presentation [UN News Centre report] of a draft bill on constitutional justice reforms in the Guatemala legislature. Stating that this "represents an historic opportunity to consolidate the remarkable progress the country has achieved in the fight against impunity and corruption in recent years," the OHCHR expressed hope that the bill would be swiftly approved by the Guatemala Congress [official website]. Among other things, the bill seeks to improve access to justice for women and indigenous peoples, recognize indigenous peoples' legal jurisdiction over internal matters, strengthen the independence and objectivity of judges and magistrates and depoliticize the nomination and appointment of officials in the justice system." The bill was the result of the collaborative efforts of indigenous authorities, civil society organizations, academicians, judicial officials and members of the private sector who were in turn assisted by the Guatemala attorney general, Human Rights Ombudsman and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) [official website]. However, the OHCHR has warned that the reforms will not bear fruit unless the safety and security of judicial and other authorities are ensured. The OHCHR highlighted its concerns over the threats against judicial authorities, widespread attacks on human rights defenders and journalists and, particularly, the growing death threats launched against Attorney General Thelma Aldana, who has thus far played a crucial role in the fight against impunity and corruption in the country. Welcoming the measures already taken to protect Aldana, the OHCHR urged Guatemala authorities to ensure that such measures "remain effective at all times."

Aldana has played a primary role in the fight against corruption in Guatemala exposing many high profile government officials, which has ultimately led to a growing number of death threats against her. In June Aldana accused [JURIST report] former Guatemala president Otto PĂ©rez Molina and ex-vice president Roxana Baldetti of taking nearly USD $130 million in bribes beginning in 2011. Aldana and CICIG presented allegations [press release, in Spanish] of illicit campaign finance, illegal association, passive bribery and money laundering. Molina and Baldetti have faced a swath of legal challenges since their resignation. In April, Aldana accused [JURIST report] Molina of accepting part of a $25 million bribe while in office. In December Molina was charged [JURIST report] with illicit association, customs fraud and bribery. Molina was jailed [JURIST report] pending investigation in September 2015 following an indictment over corruption charges. Also that month Molina sent a letter [JURIST report] to both the Guatemala Congress and reporters announcing his resignation and his intention to "stand before justice." The day before his resignation, Molina was stripped of his presidential immunity [JURIST report] in a unanimous vote by Congress. After Molina had previously announced in August of last year that he had no plans to resign, Guatemala's Supreme Court approved [JURIST reports] prosecutors' requests to impeach the president.

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