Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Peru: Ensure Fair Selection of Judges, Ombudsman

Source: Human Rights Watch

(Washington, DC) – Peru should uphold its obligation to respect the independence of the Constitutional Court and the ombudsman by adhering to an impartial and objective appointment process for all candidates to the posts, Human Rights Watch said today.

On July 17, 2013, the Peruvian Congress appointed six new members to the Constitutional Court of Peru, a new ombudsman, and three members of the Central Reserve Bank. The major political parties put forward their candidates and congress voted for all the candidates in “block” without analyzing the credentials of each or making any individual assessments. Leading local human rights organizations have challenged the selection process before the courts, contending it makes the appointees subject to partisan politics.

“Appointing a closed slate of pre-determined candidates is hardly going to leave Peruvians confident that the people in these key positions have the independence, integrity, and ability to do their job effectively,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “And it's just as important for the nominees themselves to know they will enjoy the independence and public confidence to do the job.”

An audio recording of conversations between politicians, released by local media outlets, revealed that major political parties in Peru had agreed that each party would put forward candidates for these positions, and that all parties would vote in favor of them. To fill six (out of seven) positions at the Constitutional Court, President Ollanta Humala's Nationalist Party chose three candidates; Fuerza Popular party, linked to former President Alberto Fujimori, chose two; and the Alianza por el Gran Cambio party chose one. Former President Alejandro Toledo's party, Peru Posible, chose the candidate for ombudsperson.

On July 17, 95 out of 97 members of Congress who were present voted in block in favor of these candidates, without analyzing their credentials. None of the appointees have yet taken office.

On July 19, two leading nongovernmental organizations in Peru– the National Coordinator for Human Rights, which groups dozens of organizations, and the Legal Defense Institute– challenged the appointments before the courts. They said that the selection process violated the Special Rules of Procedures to Select Magistrates of the Constitutional Court, which require voting for each person separately. Under the Peruvian Constitution, no one can act as a judge if their appointment does not comply with constitutional or legal requirements.

After citizens organized public protests criticizing the appointments in several parts of the country, most of the appointees agreed to withdraw from the positions. On July 23, the official paper El Peruano reported that members of Congress would hold an extraordinary session the following day to annul the appointments and carry out a new selection process for all positions.Peru is party to several human rights treaties – including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights – that require it to safeguard the independence and impartiality of its judiciary. The UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary state that “[a]ny method of judicial selection shall safeguard against judicial appointments for improper motives.”

Similarly, according to the Universal Charter of the Judge, a set of norms drafted by judges and approved by the International Association of Judges, the selection of judges “must be carried out according to objective and transparent criteria based on proper professional qualification.” Under the Statute of the Iberoamerican Judge, selection mechanisms should be predetermined by law and public and must evaluate “objectively the knowledge and professional merits of candidates.”

The Paris Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions state that members of national human rights institutions, such as the Ombudsman Office, should be appointed through a “procedure which affords all necessary guarantees to ensure the pluralist representation of the social forces (of civilian society) involved in the protection and promotion of human rights.”