Guatemala‘s highest court ordered an immediate halt on Monday to a controversial commission of inquiry into the work of a United Nations-backed anti-corruption body.
During its 12 years operating in the country, the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) worked alongside Guatemalan prosecutors to pursue high-profile corruption cases, including bringing down a sitting president in 2015.
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CICIG retained the support of 70 percent of the population, according to polls, but the government shut it down on September 3 after two years of backlash over its investigations into president Jimmy Morales, his party, relatives and political allies.
The backlash continued even after CICIG shut down. Guatemalan politicians presented and passed a decree September 24 to investigate CICIG’s work and personnel.
The decree established a special commission of five legislators known for their anti-CICIG stances to probe “the existence of the commission of illegal or arbitrary acts” and potentially recommend legal action.
The legislators began their inquiry last week, but the Constitutional Court on Monday ordered an injunction and stopped them in their tracks. The attorney general, a private lawyer, and a civil society group had filed for injunctions based on various arguments, including that Congress was usurping the functions of the Attorney General’s Office.
The court issued the provisional injunction based on discrepancies between the text of the decree and the arguments Congress presented to the court, the Constitutional Court said in a statement Monday.
“The anti-CICIG commission is clearly unconstitutional and therefore illegal,” said Iduvina Hernandez, director of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy, a Guatemalan non-governmental group.
“In granting a provisional injunction, the Constitutional Court’s resolution restores the infringed principle,” Hernandez told Al Jazeera.
Many of the legislators who passed the measure, including two of the five commissioners, have faced formal efforts to strip their immunity from prosecution for alleged corruption and other crimes.
The special commission’s mandate for the inquiry was to continue until January 10, just days before the new Congress and president-elect are set to take office.
The commission of inquiry was widely condemned by civil society groups, analysts and opposition politicians in Guatemala and abroad. US Representative Norma Torres called the measure reprehensible.
“Since [CICIG’s] departure, members of Guatemala’s political class have threatened retribution against CICIG and the many Guatemalans who supported its work. The creation of a specialized commission within the Guatemalan Congress is clearly part of this effort,” Torres said in a statement last month.
The inquiry is framed as an investigation of CICIG, but its scope could also include the Guatemalan special prosecutors against impunity and others who worked alongside CICIG and continue to pursue high-profile corruption cases.
The country’s human rights ombudsman Jordan Rodas, an outspoken critic of the government’s attacks on CICIG, is currently the target of an attempt by legislators to remove him from office.
The Constitutional Court itself has also been subject to inflammatory rhetoric and defiance over the past year for its rulings against government measures, particularly on issues related to CICIG.
“It is also up to us as civil society to back the Constitutional Court’s decision,” Hernandez said.