Desafuero is a Spanish-language legal term used to refer to situations where official immunity is lifted from members of government so they can be prosecuted. In some Spanish-speaking nations, people holding public office are immune from prosecution unless a committee specifically lifts that immunity, stripping the official of privilege and making it possible to take him to court. This term is commonly encountered in Latin America, where citizens may initiate proceedings to make it possible to take a public official like a mayor to court.
This term translates as “desecration” or “sacrilege,” and the legal meaning is distinct and separate from these meanings. This can cause confusion when translating texts in Spanish, unless the translator is familiar with the desafuero process. This illustrates the importance of specific training for legal translators to make sure they can handle texts appropriately.
Political officeholders can become subject to desafuero in a variety of situations. Members of the public may petition to be able to sue for activities undertaken in a way that abused the power of that office, like refusing to grant permits or collecting taxes fraudulently. A committee can review the facts of the case and the situation, and determine whether to make the politician eligible for prosecution. After desafuero, it will be possible to sue that politician in a regular court of law.
Stripping immunity may be necessary for impeachment proceedings and similar situations where politicians need to be prosecuted by their own government, not just members of the public. A desafuero hearing can determine whether the government can mount a case against a politician to remove him from office or take other measures. Such hearings often attract public attention and may be heavily covered in the media and discussed by members of the public with an interest in politics.
In some nations, there are additional steps to this process. In Mexico, for example, politicians don't just lose their governmental immunity, they also lose the right to run for office again. Desafuero can be a form of censure in this case because it limits career opportunities. Public officials taken to court who lose may find it difficult to get work because the unsuccessful court case will be viewed as a black mark on their records. Particularly in corruption cases and other situations that suggest a politician may be lacking in integrity, employers may be understandably reluctant to hire her, especially if media coverage was intense.