Learning to Walk without a Crutch: The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala
Learning to Walk without a Crutch: The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
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Report / Latin America & Caribbean 2 minutes

Learning to Walk without a Crutch: The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala

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.

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Executive Summary

Since it began operations in September 2007, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, CICIG) has brought a degree of hope to a country deeply scarred by post-conflict violence and entrenched impunity. As homicide rates sky-rocketed and criminals fought for territorial control and dominated or corrupted multiple levels of state agencies, the novel independent investigating entity created by agreement between the government and the UN Secretary-General responded to fear that illegal armed groups had become a threat to the state itself. Much remains to be done, however. During the next years the commission should establish the strategic basis for dismantling the illegal security forces and clandestine security organisations (Cuerpos Ile­ga­les y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad, CIACS) over the long term and building Guatemalan justice capacity, including by supporting national ownership of the commission’s functions and embedding them within the judicial system.

CICIG’s formal mandate is to support and assist domestic justice institutions in the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed by CIACS, to identify their structures, operations and financing and ultimately to dismantle them. At the same time, CICIG has sought 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.

On 13 January 2011, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon confirmed a second two-year extension of CICIG’s original mandate, to 4 September 2013. The commission has achieved notable and unprecedented short-term successes, evidenced by positive outcomes in a series of high-impact legal cases, dismissal and prosecution of several senior officials, removal of a compromised attorney general and the selection of a respected successor. It has encouraged the adoption of norms for election of Supreme Court judges and helped generate public awareness about impunity, CIACS and organised crime. It contributed directly to the creation of a Special Prosecutor’s Office that assists its work (Unidad Especial de la Fiscalía de Apoyo a la CICIG, UEFAC) and has supported greater professionalism in the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministerio Público, MP), the institution charged with the investigation and prosecution of crimes in Guatemala. It has also pushed through a limited number of important legal reforms.

However, the core elements of the mandate – dismantling the CIACS and consolidating sustainable institutional transformation – remain unmet, and it is uncertain whether sufficient progress has been achieved or at least the foundations have been laid to guarantee those goals will be accomplished. Severe structural constraints and the resistance of diverse spoilers, as well as limitations imposed by the commission’s own mandate and strategies, have been restraining factors. Such institutional transformation as there has been will remain isolated exceptions, unless further legislative reforms are adopted to extend them throughout state institutions.

Moreover, there is a serious question about the degree to which the Guatemalan 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 be a priority during the next two years. CICIG has provided a crutch. The justice system must now learn to walk on its own and increasingly assume the responsibilities with which CICIG has been charged.

Guatemala City/Bogotá/Brussels, 31 May 2011


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