UN 'deeply concerned' by threats to Guatemala justice officials

The UN on Wednesday voiced "deep concern" over threats, harassment and reprisals faced by justice officials and human rights defenders in Guatemala.

UN rights chief Volker Turk called on Guatemalan authorities to step up measures to guarantee the independence of the Central American country's justice system.

His comments come just days after a Guatemalan court jailed a senior anti-corruption prosecutor following a trial criticised as a bid to undermine the fight against graft.

Justice officials and those tackling impunity and corruption have been "investigated, detained, charged and even convicted for abuse of power, obstruction of justice and conspiracy," a statement from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

It added that others had fled the country over fears for their safety.

Between 2021 and 2022, the UN Human Rights Office in Guatemala said it recorded a "more than 70 percent increase in the number of justice officials facing intimidation and criminal charges for their work on corruption or human rights violations".

In 2019, the country's former president closed down the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN-backed entity that, together with the prosecutor's office, unearthed several corruption scandals.

The statement added that since its closure, "there has been a steady increase in the number of cases of harassment and criminal charges against its former officials, and prosecutors".

On Friday last week senior anti-corruption prosecutor Virginia Laparra was sentenced to four years in prison in what Amnesty International said was "yet another example of the criminalisation of justice workers in Guatemala."

US State Department assistant secretary for the western hemisphere Brian Nichols said she was targeted for "doing her job."

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