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Does Guatemala Need a UN Commission against Impunity?

By: Contributor - Apr 8, 2015, 2:59 pm

EspañolThere are those who insist the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is illegal and should be disbanded. However, as the commission nears the end of its term in September, it is no surprise that a large segment of the Guatemalan public supports its continuation.

Commissioner Iván Velásquez has chaired the Comission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) since 2013.
Commissioner Iván Velásquez has chaired the Comission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) since 2013. (CICIG)

The CICIG was launched in December 2006, as an agreement between the Guatemalan government and the United Nations, in an effort to fight organized crime. From its inception, it was decided that it would function as an independent organization in support of the Public Ministry (MP) and other state institutions, with the aim of strengthening the Guatemalan justice system.

To date, three individuals have served as the head of the commission: Carlos Castresana, Francisco Dall’Anese, and Iván Velásquez. The Washington Office on Latin America recently published a report on the CICIG’s results, calling them “transcendental.”

This week, a bipartisan group of US congressmen signed a letter supporting the continuation of the CICIG. “Given its track record of success, we strongly believe that having an independent organization, such as CICIG, is the right way to help Guatemala counter organized crime and strengthen its criminal justice system,” read the letter.

Those who oppose the CICIG argue the commission is unconstitutional, has failed in its objectives, and operates with clear political bias.

Like any governmental organization, the commission has succeeded in some ways, and not in others. However, the Guatemalan judicial system as it currently stands is extremely weak, and the main question is whether or not the CICIG can help strengthen it.

According to a report from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), in eight years of work, the commission achieved “transcendental results.” WOLA notes that when the CICIG first began its work in Guatemala, criminal organizations had been infiltrating and compromising state institutions for over 20 years.

“Because of its actions, the CICIG facilitated the mobilization of civil society and the political consensus that followed, as well as important legislative reforms. It also administered (especially to the Public Ministry) fundamental mechanisms of investigation that were lacking, and the removal of public officials that were involved with criminal networks,” stated the report.

As WOLA demonstrates, the CICIG has also been crucial in building cases against former President Alfonso Portillo and Byron Lima’s corruption racket that he runs from prison.

When it comes to guaranteeing the security of the Guatemalan state and its citizens, as well as maintaining international support, allowing the CICIG to continue its work would be a benefit.

By the same token, the CICIG could improve in its work fighting criminal networks and corruption across the country. Critics say the CICIG only targets members of the Guatemalan military. The commission would do well to avoid politicization, and cooperate with Guatemalan security agencies, in order to better serve the country.

State institutions should strictly function to guarantee the rights and liberties of individuals, among these their security. If implemented correctly, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala could function as a valuable tool to combat corruption and organized crime.

Translated by Thalia C. Siqueiros. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.