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Guatemalan court upholds top prosecutor’s ouster

February 8, 2014

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala’s Supreme Court on Friday upheld its ruling that the country’s crusading attorney general must step down in May, seven months before her term was set to end, drawing complaints from human rights groups.

The top court turned down an appeal by Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz to reconsider its original ruling, which supported a lawyer’s claim that Paz’s four-year term technically began in May 2010, when the official she replaced was appointed, and not in December 2010, when she took the post.

The court’s decisions were condemned by human rights groups which said the rulings favored opponents of Paz, who since assuming leadership of the public ministry has vigorously pursued military officials and other suspects, putting four civil war-era generals on the stand for charges of crimes against humanity and genocide after their cases had been stalled for decades.

“We believe the court’s decision doesn’t do anything to defend the Constitution and instead works in favor of vested interests that want to maintain impunity,” said Jorge Santos, a member of Convergence for Human Rights, which groups about a dozen human rights organizations.

Rights groups have asked the top court to include them in discussions about whether Paz should leave her post in May.

Paz is also supported by the United States, which provides millions in aid to Guatemala, for her reputation for staying above the country’s rampant public corruption.

U.S. Ambassador Arnold Chacon said in a statement this week that Paz is “an example of an honest, capable public servant of integrity.”

On Wednesday, the court ordered Congress to immediately convene a session to form a commission to pick a shortlist of candidates to replace her. Lawmakers met Thursday but couldn’t agree to create the commission and the discussion was delayed until Monday.

Paz has also pushed for international training of prosecutors to carry out more-scientific prosecutions, which has garnered her support from the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, a United Nations-backed independent body that has 50 international prosecutors, police officers and attorneys charged with investigating a limited number of sensitive cases.

The commission has successfully prosecuted several high-profile cases but its longer-term mission is strengthening the attorney general’s office and other state institutions before the commission leaves Guatemala, expected after 2015.

Paz’s most high-profile case was the prosecution of former dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt, who was sentenced to 80 years in prison after being convicted of knowing about the slaughter of 1,771 Ixil Mayans during Guatemala’s civil war. But his conviction was annulled in a high court decision that many saw as a sign of the lingering influence of the wartime military and its backers.

Lawyer and businessman Ricardo Sagastume, who petitioned to oust Paz in May, said his decision to appeal to the court was personal because that’s what a law governing prosecutors dictates.

Sagastume is a former director of Guatemala’s Industry Chamber and was a member of the National Convergence Front Party, which was founded by active and former military officials.

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