By Mikiko Galpin, Fall 2022 Intern
On December 9, 2022, the International Association of Women Judges hosted the webinar “Judicial Integrity” to highlight the experiences of women judges in several countries experiencing corruption.
The webinar hosted three esteemed panelists from different areas of the world—Judge Yassmin Barrios (President Judge of the First Court of Criminal Judgment, Drug Activity and Crimes Against the Environment of Guatemala), Judge Samaranda Nassar (First Investigative Judge for Northern Lebanon), and Justice Amina Aliyu (High Court of Nigeria)—and was moderated by Dr. Claudia Escobar.
The panel focused on the negative effects of corruption on the judiciary, civil society, and the structural stability of a country’s governance. The panelists demonstrated the effects of corruption in their own countries by sharing their personal experiences within the judiciary. Finally, the panelists emphasized the necessity of a collaborative approach to combatting corruption through civil society organizations, judicial action, and political action, emphasizing that only an impartial and independent judiciary can guarantee the true rule of law.
First, Judge Barrios shared her experience in Guatemala where she sits on one of two High Risk Courts working to restore credibility to the justice system. She noted that corruption is identified by the “contamination that it produces” and that corruption negates good things and manifests in the breaking of norms. She discussed the rise of corruption in Guatemala as driven by high poverty rates and highlighted that corruption and organized crime are now viewed as rewarding, rather than harmful.
Despite judges handing down independent rulings, significant barriers to judicial independence exist in Guatemala, including the persecution of judges and death threats that have forced them to flee the country. Judge Barrios concluded by expressing her hope that the international community will continue to support the efforts of judges to return the credibility of the Guatemalan justice system.
Second, Judge Nassar outlined the innovative techniques she has been using as the First Investigative Judge to transform the judiciary system in Northern Lebanon. She began by briefly discussing Lebanon’s history with corruption and how widespread embezzlement by politicians resulted in an economic crisis. To fight this corruption, Judge Nassar highlighted the implementation of new laws concerning money laundering, illegal enrichment, and banking confidentiality. She also discussed specific electronic initiatives that have been taken to facilitate transparency within the judicial system, including the installation of CCTV in judicial offices to deter court employee corruption, an online center where all investigative interviews are conducted and recorded, and training the magistrates and judges to be proficient with electronic technology.
Third, Justice Aliyu discussed her paper entitled “Strengthening Integrity Against Corruption: Nigerian Women Justices and Judges” which focused on educating judges on the risks of being indirectly involved in corrupt practices. In particular, she emphasized steps that judges can take to strengthen their understanding of corruption and to ensure that they are preventing their employees and themselves from engaging in corrupt activities. Justice Aliyu pointed to several examples from her own experiences where her court staff had struck a deal with a litigant or counsel without her knowledge, promising that she would rule in a particular way when she herself did not intend to compromise the case. Justice Aliyu discussed the importance of judicial awareness to deter judges from inadvertently becoming involved in corrupt activities.
Finally, all three panelists highlighted the need for international support and further education to support judicial actors who are fighting corruption. The IAWJ hopes to continue this programming to raise awareness regarding these issues. Additionally, the IAWJ will continue to connect with judges of all levels and empower them with tools to fight corruption.
A recording of the webinar is available here.