In Guatemala, a new criminal court for big-risk cases but little faith in judicial independence

19 November 2015 by Louisa Reynolds, Guatemala City (Guatemala)

A new Guatemalan court to oversee complex criminal cases raises hopes that lawsuits, including those concerning the country’s decades-long armed conflict, will be processed with greater speed. Human rights organizations praise the court, which opened on 28 October, though some question the independence of its judges.

Helen Mack, sister of murdered Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack, speaks at March 2015 meeting of La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) (Photo: Flickr/cidh/Daniel Cima)
Image caption: 
Helen Mack, sister of murdered Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack, speaks at March 2015 meeting of La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) (Photo: Flickr/cidh/Daniel Cima)

The Guatemalan Civil War, fought from 1960 to 1996 between the Guatemalan government and leftist guerrilla groups, killed an estimated 200,000 people, displaced 1.5 million and disappeared 40,000. The victims’ road to justice has been long and fraught with obstacles.

After 2015’s slow progress in bringing the perpetrators of wartime human rights violations to justice, the Guatemalan judiciary’s decision to open a third so-called “high-risk” court is expected to reduce the workload of the two existing courts and allow cases hindered by endless delays to be processed sooner than scheduled.

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