What Does "Desafuero" Mean?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Woman posing
Woman posing

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Mammmood - In the United States I don’t think it’s possible to indict a sitting president unless he is first impeached. Of course a succeeding president might be able to pardon him, so the immunity issue becomes a moot point in my opinion.

But I do believe that no politician should be given immunity in the first place unless there are extreme reasons for doing so. Otherwise it sends a message to the people that politicians are above the law, which of course would be ironic since they help to create the laws.


@hamje32 - I like the idea of lifting immunity from politicians. I don’t know if we have something comparable in the United States.

Usually, from what I understand, once someone is granted immunity it pretty much sticks. Prosecutors will grant immunity in exchange for cooperation. For example, they may be doing a drug bust, and will grant immunity to a small time drug dealer if he’ll rat out his big time drug boss.

I don’t know of cases where that immunity is ever repealed. I think it works well in those cases. The only times that I would favor lifting immunity is if the suspect did something above and beyond the original crime they were arrested for.


The last paragraph is most illuminating. It’s true that politicians taken to court may find it difficult to find jobs afterwards. But really that’s true of everyone, politician and non politician alike.

Here in the United States when we apply for a job we are asked if we’ve ever been arrested. I never have, but if I had, of course I would need to answer truthfully and then explain myself.

I can guarantee you that for most jobs, even with a good explanation, I would get no interviews. Employers do background checks too so they can figure that stuff out on their own even if you don’t tell them.

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