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Road to justice:
A novel approach to fighting crime and impunity in post-conflict Guatemala

The Guatemalan Congress votes in favour of a legal reform proposed by the International Commission Against Impunity. The Commission has proposed reforms including changes to the law on immunity and to laws on criminal procedures and organized crime. 2008. Photo/CICIG
The Guatemalan Congress votes in favour of a legal reform
proposed by the International Commission Against Impunity.
The Commission has proposed reforms including changes
to the law on immunity and to laws on criminal procedures
and organized crime. 2008. Photo/CICIG

A UN-backed commission battling organized crime in Guatemala is providing a unique form of international assistance for nations confronted with surging crime and the legacy of armed conflict. Whereas other countries have turned to international tribunals to cope with serious crimes that their fragile justice systems are ill-equipped to handle, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is working closely with national authorities to prosecute such crimes through the country’s own courts.

The Story

Guatemala has struggled for years to dismantle clandestine security structures since three decades of armed conflict ended in 1996. The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) – an independent investigative body created in 2008 under an agreement between the United Nations and Guatemala – is breaking new ground in this fight.

Unlike an international tribunal, CICIG’s team of investigators and criminal justice experts is working directly with Guatemalan authorities to bring criminal groups to trial in the country’s courts. Working in partnership with police and prosecutors, the commission is investigating criminal groups that have long paralyzed the country’s justice system. After years of armed conflict, illegal groups that used to threaten and prevent courts from taking action in cases of human rights abuses have since evolved into organized criminal groups.

Based in Guatemala City, CICIG is currently investigating about 24 cases and is serving as a complementary prosecutor in partnership with Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office in several cases. The commission is staffed with about 150 international and Guatemalan professionals, most of whom are criminal justice experts.

In accordance with its mandate, the Commission has proposed a number of legislative changes to strengthen Guatemala’s crime-fighting laws and bolster the judiciary’s capacity to fight organized crime. According to CICIG, efforts to fight corruption in 2008 led to the expulsion of about 1,700 people, including 50 senior officials, from the police force. CICIG also has proposed to set up wiretapping procedures, improve witness protection, transfer highly sensitive cases to courts in Guatemala City, and establish a maximum security penitentiary for dangerous suspects.

This new UN-backed initiative to strengthen the rule of law in a post-conflict country by working directly within the national criminal justice system has shown encouraging results in Guatemala and serves as a potential model for other countries dealing with violent crime and lawlessness in the aftermath of war. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged Guatemalan authorities and civil society to support CICIG’s efforts to investigate and prosecute illegal armed groups in the Central American nation.

The Context

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:

Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG):
Diego Alvarez, Press Officer

United Nations Department of Political Affairs:
Jared Kotler, Press and Public Affairs

 

USEFUL WEB LINKS:

International Committee Against Impunity in Guatemala
http://www.cicig.org/

UN News Centre
www.un.org/News