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Inter-American Court of Human Rights Highlights Importance of Prosecutorial Independence in Judgment on Martínez Esquivia v. Colombia

December 16, 2020
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NEW YORK—In a press release, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has announced a judgment in favor of fired Colombian deputy prosecutor Yenina Esther Martínez Esquivia, finding that Colombia violated her fundamental rights when she was dismissed from her position. The court ruled that her removal violated the guarantee of stable tenure that protects the ability of prosecutors to act independently and objectively. It also found that Colombia violated her right to due process, as no reasons were given for the dismissal, and Martínez Esquivia’s efforts to use legal channels to challenge the decision were all dismissed or rejected.

“Prosecutors play a key role in safeguarding the rule of law and ensuring that all are treated with equality within the justice system," said Maïté De Rue, legal officer at the Justice Initiative. "The judgement in favor of Martínez Esquivia reiterates the state’s responsibility to safeguard prosecutorial independence in order to allow them to carry out these important functions objectively, without being subject to reprisal, political pressure, or undue interference.”

Martínez Esquivia was removed without cause in 2004 after she ignored her superior’s orders to prematurely close an investigation into corruption by a public official. She lodged a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2005 challenging her dismissal. In 2018, the Commission stated that Martínez Esquivia’s right to judicial guarantees and judicial protection were violated. The case was referred to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights the following year. The Justice Initiative acted as co-counsel with the lawyers Ciro Colombara Lopez and Branislav Marelic Rokov from the Pro Bono Network of the Americas for the filing of the Martínez Esquivia’s final submission to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Colombara and Marelic, who belong to the law firm RCZ, said: “We are thrilled that, after many years, justice has been served for Yenina Martínez. This case sets an important precedent not only for Colombia or for Latin America, but also worldwide. The independence of the judiciary and prosecution services is key to the rule of law in order to prevent criminal investigations from being used for political or other purposes.”

Constanza Alvial, co-coordinator of the Pro Bono Network of the Americas, added: "The fact that the court also cited European and African regional human rights systems in its decision shows how international, regional, and domestic standards on prosecutorial independence can mutually influence each other in beneficial ways. Martínez Esquivia received the attention and support of an entire international network of jurists in her fight for justice."

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