Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Center for International Human Rights will award its eighth Global Jurist of the Year Award to Guatemalan judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez in recognition of a career spent holding power to account, protecting human rights and defending the rule of law in Guatemala, even at great personal risk.
Gálvez will officially accept the award at a ceremony and dinner at the Law School on Wednesday, March 1.
The award will recognize his leadership and courage as a judge who has often presided over cases that were key to fighting for democracy, judicial independence and against impunity in Guatemala, according to attorneys that nominated him from the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights and the Due Process of Law Foundation.
“The Center for International Human Rights conceived of the Global Jurist of the Year Award as a way to honor judges around the world who have shown determined commitment to human rights and the rule of law in the face of adversity,” said Juliet Sorensen — a clinical professor of law — and Ibrahim Gassama, a visiting professor of law serving as interim director of the Center, in a joint statement. “Judge Galvez’s courage and integrity epitomizes what it means to be a global jurist.”
During the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996), government forces killed thousands of civilians — especially in indigenous Maya communities in rural areas of the country — in what has since been ruled a genocide. Nevertheless, many leaders never faced accountability.
Gálvez has been instrumental in holding some of the perpetrators of those crimes accountable: He has ruled on charges against former dictators, sitting presidents, death squad operators, oligarchs and drug cartels.
Notably, he served as an investigating judge against former military leader and de facto president José Efraín Ríos Montt, who became the first former head of state to be convicted of genocide by a domestic court, and ordered the arrest of former president Otto Pérez Molin, who is being tried on corruption charges related to a major customs fraud scam.
Until last November, when he was forced to step down and flee into exile amid what critics have called a push by the current president, Alejandro Giammattei, to consolidate power, Gálvez had served on the bench since 1999. Most recently, he served for 10 years as a judge on a “high risk” court designed to adjudicate serious corruption and human rights abuse cases.
His distinguished career includes numerous cases that have enforced international humanitarian and human rights laws, including verdicts on grave war crimes such as sexual violence against indigenous women and the forced disappearance of political opponents.
The Global Jurist of the Year Award is designed to honor a sitting judge — whether in an international or national court — who has demonstrated courage in the face of adversity to uphold and defend fundamental human rights or the principles of international criminal justice. Jurists from all nations and tribunals are eligible for consideration.
The Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs, the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law Chapter of the International Refugee Assistance Project, and the Due Process of Law Foundation are cosponsors of the event.
Recent past recipients of the CIHR’s Global Jurist Award include women judges in Afghanistan; Justice Mumbi Ngugi, Judge of the High Court of Kenya; and Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, president of the International Criminal Court and a national of Argentina.