Miguel Ángel Gálvez receives Pritzker jurist award, discusses justice in Guatemala


Illustration by Pavan Acharya

Miguel Ángel Gálvez, an internationally renowned Guatemalan judge, received the Global Jurist of the Year Award from the Pritzker School of Law’s Center for International Human Rights on Wednesday.

Russell Leung, Senior Staffer

Guatemalan judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez spoke about justice, power and human rights in a conversation at the Pritzker School of Law on Wednesday. 

Gálvez is this year’s recipient of the Global Jurist of the Year Award, granted by Pritzker’s Center for International Human Rights. The prize, now in its eighth year, recognizes judges who are committed to international criminal justice and defending human rights in the face of adversity, according to a Feb. 2 news release.

“Judge Gálvez’s courage and integrity epitomizes what it means to be a global jurist,” Pritzker Profs. Juliet Sorensen and Ibrahim Gassama said in a joint statement in the release.

The center officially presented Gálvez with the award at a dinner and ceremony Wednesday evening. The award is co-sponsored by the Buffett Institute for Global Affairs, the Pritzker Chapter of the International Refugee Assistance Project and the Due Process of Law Foundation. 

Gassama, who also serves as interim director of the Center for International Human Rights, said Gálvez has fought to administer justice to some of the most powerful individuals responsible for war crimes and violence in Guatemala — like former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina — even at great personal risk. 

After more than 20 years of service, Gálvez was forced to resign his post and was exiled by the Guatemalan government in November 2022 in what critics have deemed a push from Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei to consolidate power.

“Judge Gálvez has been instrumental in holding many of the worst of the worst accountable,” Gassama said. “He has acted with courage and conviction on charges against former dictators, sitting presidents, generals, death squad operators, oligarchs and drug cartels.”

In his opening remarks, delivered in Spanish, Gálvez discussed his work on the judge’s bench as well as his post-exile experiences. He said one of his biggest mistakes as a judge was solely dedicating himself to the judiciary and ignoring larger realities outside of the courthouse. Since being forced to leave Guatemala, Gálvez said he has traveled across the globe and connected with other Guatemalans in exile.

During the conversation, Gálvez also noted authoritarian trends across Central America, including Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s efforts to strip citizenship from his political opponents.

“Citizenship is a human right, a natural right, a principal right,” Gálvez said.

Gálvez took questions from the audience following his opening speech. 

One audience member asked Gálvez whether international criminal courts can play a role in delivering justice in Guatemala when the national judicial system cannot. In response, Gálvez said he believes the international courts can.

He attributed his resignation to Guatemala’s failure to comply with advocacy from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which attempted to protect Gálvez from harassment and persecution by right-wing and pro-military groups. At the time of his resignation, Gálvez faced legal charges from these groups who claimed he abused his authority. 

Currently, Gálvez said the court is calling for his return to the judge’s bench in Guatemala.

“I don’t lose hope that we can return and do things the way they have to be done,” Gálvez said. 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @rjleung7

Related Stories:

Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez conferred Global Jurist of the Year Award 

Faculty talk Pritzker self-removal from U.S. News Rankings 

Carine Kanimba discusses efforts to free father Paul Rusesabagina