UN-backed war on impunity in Guatemala should be strengthened – commission head

20 April 2010

A United Nations-backed body seeking to end the impunity of illegal security groups that violate human rights in Guatemala has been successful and its mandate should be extended and strengthened to cover corruption and organized crime, its head said today.

“I think that the mandate is probably not broad enough, not only in the substantive,” International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) Commissioner Carlos Castresana told a news conference in New York. “There are other issues like organized crime [and] corruption that should be included and the mandate itself should be reinforced.”

The UN and the Guatemalan Government agreed to set up CICIG in December 2006 as an independent body to support the Public Prosecutors Office, the National Civilian Police and other institutions to investigate a limited number of sensitive and difficult cases regarding illegal security groups and clandestine security organizations and dismantle them. It began work in 2008.

According to the mandate, which has another year and a half to run, it is also hoped that through CICIG’s work, national institutions would be strengthened to confront illegal groups and organized crime in the future.

Former Guatemalan vice-president Eduardo Stein also called for extending and strengthening the mandate. “We’re convinced that we need more time, the training, the experience sharing, the institution strengthening process needs more time,” he told journalists.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel. The staggering results of just two very short years show that indeed there are good people in our public institutions that society can work with, that of course would need better training, better tools better budgeting,” he said. “We are dealing with a formidable fight, a colossal fight to save our institutions from the kidnapping of these dark forces.”

Outlining CICIG’s successes in a country that has suffered from a long history of impunity, especially during the repressive and often brutal military dictatorships from the 1960s to the ’80s, Mr. Castresana noted that its work had led to the dismissal of almost 2,000 policemen, about 15 per cent of the national force, an attorney-general, 10 prosecutors and three justices of the Supreme Court.

“We have sent to jail 130 individuals, the kind of people who had never been prosecuted in Guatemala before, a former president, a former defence minister, a former finance minister [and] two acting directors of the national police.”

All this has been possible only because the commission had been able to identify and work with reliable and committed policemen, prosecutors and actors “who are helping us to fulfil our mandate, to change the country,” he added.

He stressed that while human rights violators used to be the State, today they are non-State actors with an international dimension. “We are in a region where the threats are obviously trans-national, and the response must be trans-national, too,” he said.

“It is a threat from organized crime, it is a threat against the institution of security and justice in Guatemala and obviously the authorities of this small country are unable but are willing and they have asked for the support of the international community and they are getting it.”

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu praised the establishment of CICIG. “The United Nations, we believe, has a function to be completed in Guatemala. The peace agreements [that ended the civil wars] must be given effect, but this will only be possible if we combat impunity and strengthen the role of the State and work towards a future of well-being for the people,” she said.

“Our struggle against impunity continues and we continue to need the involvement of the international community and we would like to congratulate the United Nations on the role it has played.”

Mr. Stein likened Guatemala’s enlistment of international support to a soccer team “who hires foreign players and technicians to better the quality of their game. We needed outside help to better the quality of our justice system and fight impunity,” he said.

The director of the newspaper Prensa Libre and the Inter-American Press Association Vice-President Gonzalo Marroquin noted that “what began as a mantle of impunity for military staff became a mantle of impunity for organized crime for corruption and in general terms for all of those who attempt to achieve political and economic significance and power in the country.” He said that the UN, by setting up CICIG, had given the impetus for changing the country’s institutions to fight impunity.

“We feel that the role of the international community is fundamental,” Ms. Menchu said. “It’s the first time that a commission against impunity of this kind has existed,” she added. “It’s helping Guatemala and perhaps a lot of other countries in the world might require a commission of the kind of mandate that CICIG has.”

 

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