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Homepage > Publication Type > Media Releases > The Challenge of Impunity in Guatemala

The challenge of impunity in Guatemala

Guatemala City/Bogotá/Brussels  |   31 May 2011

Despite the promising beginning made by a unique hybrid legal body established by agreement with the UN, a culture of fear and impunity still prevails in Guatemala.

Learning to Walk without a Crutch: the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala , Crisis Group‘s latest report, examines the progress the commission, known as CICIG, has made so far. Its mandate – extended earlier this year for a third two-year term – is to support and assist domestic justice institutions in the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed by illegal security forces and clandestine security organisations (CIACS), to identify their structures, operations and financing and ultimately to dismantle them. At the same time, it also seeks to strengthen the weak judicial system in order to put an end to impunity, a task made infinitely more difficult by the complex relationship between elements of state institutions, political parties, the private sector and the CIACS.

“CICIG has had an unprecedented impact on Guatemala’s acute levels of impunity and their institutional foundations”, says Javier Ciurlizza, Crisis Group’s Latin America and Caribbean Program Director. “In certain cases, the wall of impunity has been breached, demonstrating that the rule of law can be applied to all citizens equally and that no one is immune from investigation and prosecution. However, the core elements of the mandate remain unmet”.

It is uncertain whether the foundations have been laid to guarantee those goals will be met. Restraining factors include severe structural constraints and limitations imposed by the commission’s own mandate and strategies but also the resistance of diverse spoilers, not least among the political and business elites of a country that is still recovering from a 36-year civil war that was ended only in 1996 and whose homicide rates rival those in neighbouring Mexico. Such institutional transformation as there has been will remain isolated exceptions, unless further legislative reforms are adopted to extend them throughout state institutions.

During the next years, the commission should establish the strategic basis for dismantling CIACS. The Guatemalan state needs to support CICIG’s mandate by strengthening, funding adequately and training the rule of law sector, as well as by removing tainted officials from key institutions and giving greater financial and technical resources to the units of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Civil Police. It should also revive and implement as a central element of a roadmap for judicial reform the National Agreement for the Advancement of Security and Justice that the government, legislature, Supreme Court and attorney general signed in 2009 but have largely ignored since.

Moreover, there is a serious question about the degree to which the state and broader society are prepared to exercise ownership of CICIG and sustain its achievements. Clear measures need to be taken to reduce the possibility that continuation of the mandate will only make the justice system more dependent on external mechanisms. National ownership of the commission’s functions and objectives is crucial to guaranteeing its long-term impact. Assuring a sustainable legacy through the transfer of technical capacities from CICIG to national institutions should thus be a priority in the next two years.

“CICIG has provided a crutch”, says Mark Schneider, Crisis Group’s Senior Vice President and Special Adviser on Latin America. “The justice system must now learn to walk on its own and increasingly assume the responsibilities with which CICIG has been charged”.


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