|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Achievements, Prospects of International Commission
against Impunity in Guatemala
In spite of the hard task it faced, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala was delivering “very obvious” results and breaking taboos, President Álvaro Colom Caballeros said at a Headquarters press conference today.
He said that, having visited the Secretary-General of the United Nations to assess the Commission’s work, particularly in relation to events in May 2009 that had threatened democracy and the rule of law, he would meet tomorrow with United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, D.C. Accompanying President Colom was Haroldo Rodas, his Minister for Foreign Affairs.
[The Commission was established, at Guatemala’s request, as a non-United Nations organ funded through voluntary contributions in order to support, strengthen and assist State institutions responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes allegedly committed by illegal security forces and clandestine security organizations. It also makes recommendations to the State concerning public policies aimed at eradicating and preventing the re-emergence of such groups and structures.]
Asked about scepticism regarding the Commission’s explanation of the murder of attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano on 10 May 2009, especially since he was said to have been the “author” of his own killing, the President said local scepticism might have originated among those sectors taking advantage of the scandal. The Commission had published on 12 January a “decisive” and complete report on the case, with some 200 pieces of evidence and testimony, he pointed out, noting also that an estimated 300 people had been involved in the investigation.
Stressing that the Government would give full political support to breaking the cycle of impunity, he said Guatemala had emerged from a bloody 36-year-long conflict that had left many open wounds. “True justice is needed for true peace,” he added.
Asked what taboos were being broken, he said that, besides the Rosenberg affair, the case against former President Alfonso Antonio Portillo Cabrera showed indications of corruption and money‑laundering, thus breaking a taboo. Additionally, former State officials had been arrested, which might make some people feel uncomfortable. Drug trafficking was being addressed.
He went on to say that the Commission was purging the national police, almost the entire leadership of which was on trial, and a case involving the killing of 14 citizens was practically resolved. For the first time in Guatemalan history, the Public Prosecutor was establishing some justice. However, the “mafia” of international organized crime worked “25 hours a day” and was not bothered by boundaries, he warned.
Asked whether the May 2009 events were an indication of political instability, President Colom said he had been elected by the population and felt perfectly safe. He had never doubted that the country would emerge stronger after the May events. Guatemala was going through many changes that had led to a national dialogue that would result in modernization. Issues of rural development and indigenous peoples were being addressed, among other things, and despite the global financial crisis, the country had enjoyed positive economic growth, as well as favourable social and economic indicators.
In response to a question about Guatemala’s inclusion in a French list of international tax havens, he said that, for the first time, tax evaders robbing the country of the means to fight poverty were being imprisoned. However, the fight for fiscal reform had led to unease among powerful sectors of society.
Asked about the possible extradition of former President Portillo to face money-laundering charges in the United States, he said that country was supporting the Commission technically and financially, and its cooperation in fighting international organized crime, particularly drug trafficking, was important. Mr. Portillo had been tried in Guatemala, but if Guatemalan judges ordered his extradition, the Government would cooperate.
In response to questions about legal and judicial reform, President Colom said that one of the benefits of the Commission had been the reform of procedures and laws, including those concerning the election of Supreme Court judges, since the current procedures had been politicized. Although pressure had been exerted on him to intervene, he had refused to do so because there must be a separation of powers. Other reforms included the establishment of a Commission of Forensic Sciences, because forensics had been neglected in criminal investigations. Reform had led to a significant drop in kidnapping and extortions cases, among others.
Asked about a controversy over mining licences, he said Guatemala did not have a mining tradition or culture. The current law on mining, stemming from 1907, was “bad law” which neither addressed the need to protect the environment and natural resources, nor respect the rights of indigenous peoples. The Government had not issued a single mining licence, and had frozen those issued by previous Governments, he added.
He concluded by saying that, while the Presidents of other countries might feel uncomfortable with a body like the Commission, he felt “honoured” to help end impunity and regain the Guatemalan people’s trust in the justice system.
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