Wednesday, December 26, 2012

US Embassy Weighs In on Firing of Justices-- Sort of

Two different legal associations in Honduras, and the US Embassy, have now issued statements about Congress's actions against the Supreme Court.

First up, the Colegio de Abogados de Honduras (CAH) which called Congress's firing of the Supreme Court Justices "an affront to the constitution" and "illegal".  As lawyers are wont to do, they backed it up with legal reasoning that does not need to be recapitulated here.  At the end of their statement was a call to the four lawyers named as replacement justices, all four of whom are members of CAH:
To our colleagues named in substitution for the legally elected, in support of the constitution and the laws we respectfully ask them to abstain from assuming said positions while the Supreme Court of Justice has not ruled on the appeals presented, otherwise you could be complicit [in the violation of constitutional order].

They also called on the Public Prosecutor, through the Constitutional Law branch, to appeal Congress's action to the Supreme Court in pursuit of the rule of law, and called on the Supreme Court to resolve the appeals presented, founded on the constitution and laws.  The CAH has called a meeting on January 21-23 to analyze the constitutional crisis.

Next up, the AsociaciĆ³n de Jueces por la Democracia (AJD), a professional  association of sitting Judges and Magistrates from across Honduras which advocates judicial independence, democratic values, and union recognition.  The AJD condemned Congress's action, saying it was arbitrary, done for political reasons by the Executive and Legislative branches.  Not only was there no investigation into the four justice's administrative actions, but Congress lacked the power to remove them from their posts.  The AJD called for a solution based on the constitution that rectifies the situation.

Finally, after more than a week, the US Embassy released its statement late Friday.  The Honduran press called it a press release, but it does not show up on the Embassy's website in the list of press releases.  Translating back from the Spanish, it seems to have read:
The Government of the United States shares the desire and efforts of Hondurans to strengthen the institutions responsible for public safety and justice, within the framework of the rule of law.
We are aware that concerns have been raised about the possible violation of the independence of the judiciary by the vote in the National Congress of Honduras on 12 December of the current year, to remove and replace four of the judges of the Supreme Court.

We recognize that all three branches of government are starting processes to enhance confidence in the independence and complementarity of each of them. The President has launched a national dialogue between the three branches of government.

The National Congress is considering a bill that would establish measures to resolve disputes that may arise between the branches of government, a need highlighted in the report of the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation. The Supreme Court will decide on the appeal for protection of judges dismissed. It is critical that all actions are carried out in a manner that is transparent and respected by all sectors of society.

This is a carefully worded statement that takes no position on the dispute between the Judicial Branch and the other two branches of government, and merely acknowledges that it is happenening. 

However, the statement immediately softens that recognition with the claim to "recognize that all three branches are starting processes to enhance confidence in the independence and complimentarity of each of them". 

Really?  This seems to be encouragement of the meeting organized by Lobo Sosa of the heads of each branch (Juan Orlando Hernandez, Jorge Rivera Aviles, and Porfirio Lobo Sosa). In our estimation, this was merely an enclave that sought to consolidate Congress's action. 

Either the Embassy is being naive about Rivera Aviles' apparent complicity in the firings of the four justices, or it is tacitly approving of it. 

Despite the Embassy's statement to the contrary, Porfirio Lobo Sosa has not started a national dialogue between the three branches of government.

The US Embassy advocates for the Supreme Court to issue a ruling as the solution. 

The question is, which court? with or without the four de-facto justices? and can Rivera Aviles do it? 

The court, and Congress, are now on their Christmas vacation until after January 3. Chief Justice Rivera Aviles tried unsuccessfully to convene the court on the 13th and 14th before giving up due to a lack of quorum, caused by some of the existing Justices boycotting any session including the four new de-facto justices appointed by Congress. 

There is currently no indication that Rivera Aviles will be able to convene the court to decide on anything, as long as he includes the four justices selected by Congress in what most of the remaining justices consider an illegal action-- an opinion shared by the major organizations of the Honduran legal community but not, it would appear, the US Embassy.

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