UN and Guatemala sign landmark agreement in bid to curb illegal and secret groups

7 January 2004

The United Nations and Guatemala signed a landmark agreement today to set up an investigative panel on illegal groups and secret security organizations in the country, giving the UN - for the first time - prosecutorial powers to work within the justice system of one of its Member States.

The United Nations and Guatemala signed a landmark agreement today to set up an investigative panel on illegal groups and secret security organizations in the country, giving the UN - for the first time - prosecutorial powers to work within the justice system of one of its Member States.

The Commission to Investigate Illegal Groups and Clandestine Security Organizations in Guatemala, to be known by its Spanish acronym CICIACS (Comisión de Investigación de Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad en Guatemala), aims to limit current criminal behaviour by prosecuting some cases, as well as to fortify the country's justice sector.

Once ratified by the Guatemalan Congress, the Commission will have an initial lifespan of two years. It will be headed by a Commissioner appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and will include a team of investigators and prosecutors experienced in human rights and organized crime.

UN officials said the Commission differs from efforts by the UN in other countries to bring accountability in that it will work within the Guatemalan legal system using Guatemalan rules of procedure to investigate and prosecute new cases in local courts. Previous truth and reconciliation commissions examined past offences, while the criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda are international in nature and follow special rules of procedure.

One of CICIACS's strong points is that the initiative came from civil society, UN officials added. "We in the UN responded to a request from the Government to help make the CICIACS idea a reality, but in so doing we are responding to a request from the people of Guatemala," said UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast, who signed the agreement along with Foreign Minister Edgar Gutierrez at UN Headquarters in New York.

"Guatemalans had recognized that continuing human rights violations and general lawlessness were holding their society back, and turned to the international community for help."

In asking the UN to establish CICIACS, Mr. Prendergast added, "Guatemala has recognized that its own justice sector institutions are having difficulty confronting some kinds of criminality. Likewise, we in the international community have recognized that not all the assistance we have given over the years to the justice sector has had the desired effect."

"Now the hard work begins," he said. "We must recognize that CICIACS is an experiment and we - Guatemalans, the United Nations and its Member States - must work closely together to ensure that the experiment is a success."

 

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