UN-backed probe of illegal armed groups in Guatemala issues first report

9 September 2008

The independent body set up with United Nations help to investigate the activities of illegal armed groups in Guatemala has presented its first report, finding that clandestine criminal elements have become “encrusted” in State institutions in the Central American country.

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known by its Spanish initials as CICIG, said that while the Government had started “an important effort” to clean out the security forces and public prosecution office, too few successful prosecutions have so far been made against criminal elements.

“Dismantling the illegal bodies and clandestine structures encrusted in many public arenas in Guatemala is the State’s responsibility,” said Carlos Castresana, the head of CICIG, at yesterday’s launch of the commission’s first-year report.

“CICIG will continue to provide all the support within its means to the Guatemalan State in order to finally root out those structures,” he added.

The report stated that the commission is currently investigating 15 so-called “high-impact” cases, mainly in coordination with public prosecutors, as well as related situations, including the high number of murders of women and labour and human rights activists.

At least eight public officials from law enforcement or justice sector institutions who were either working on high-impact cases or held vital information on other cases have been killed this year.

CICIG said Guatemala needs to step up its efforts to protect police officers, prosecutors, judges and also witnesses who may be at risk. The commission has also proposed legislative reforms to help to combat impunity.

Established under an agreement between the UN and the Guatemalan Government that came into effect on 4 September last year, CICIG is an independent, non-UN body that can conduct its own investigations and also help local institutions, particularly public prosecutors.

CICIG, which operates with assistance from the UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA) in New York and support in Guatemala from the UN Development Programme (UNDP), is funded entirely by voluntary contributions from the international community.

Over three decades of conflict in Guatemala ended with the signing of peace accords in December 1996, but concern has been mounting in recent years that illegal security groups and clandestine security organizations have continued to operate with impunity, conduct criminal activities and violate human rights.

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UN-supported probe into armed groups in Guatemala set to begin work

The independent body recently set up with the help of the United Nations to investigate the presence and activities of illegal armed groups in Guatemala will be officially launched today in the Central American nation’s capital.