CICIG: Leaving its Imprint in Guatemala
The UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has earned praise for its hard-hitting criminal investigations and for helping to galvanize public awareness about organized crime and impunity in the Central American country.
Today, with an eye toward sustaining momentum over the long term, CICIG’s focus is shifting toward preparing Guatemala’s institutions to carry the baton forward on their own.
Focus on Capacity-Building
Addressing donor governments during a November 2011 visit to UN headquarters in New York, CICIG Commissioner Francisco Dall’Anese explained that “transferring capacities” to Guatemala’s justice system would be a top priority of the Commission in the period ahead. This will be no easy task, however, institutional strengthening is essential if the Commission’s ground-breaking work is to leave a lasting effect on the ground.
Deep-seated Problems of Crime and Impunity
CICIG’s current mandate extends through September 2013. Its establishment in 2007, under a request from Guatemala to the United Nations, was a recognition that the country needed help to tackle deep-seated problems of crime and impunity.
Peace accords signed in 1996 brought decades of political violence to a close, but violent crime skyrocketed in the years that followed. Guatemala’s location on the drug trafficking routes from South America to the United States brought lucrative new opportunities to criminal groups. Authorities have been unable to effectively fight back, plagued in part by illegal networks that have conspired to stifle investigations and prosecutions.
CICIG was established to help remedy this problem, with an innovative “hybrid” mandate: an international investigative body that prosecutes its cases in national courts, jointly with national prosecutors. The Commission’s staff, drawn from more than two dozen countries, includes investigators and prosecutors with extensive experience in battling organized crime.
Four years into its operations, CICIG has registered important achievements.
Verdicts have been handed down in numerous high-profile cases, demonstrating to Guatemalans that professional investigations can result in justice. At the urging of the Commission, special courts have been established to take on highly sensitive organized crime cases and Guatemala has taken steps to strengthen its witness protection programme.
CICIG’s thematic reports have helped to shed light on problem areas linked to the presence of criminal organizations in the country — such as illegal adoptions, the sale of firearms, and killings of women.
Dall’Anese, a former Attorney General of Costa Rica, became CICIG’s second Commissioner in August 2010 following his appointment to the position by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He has maintained the Commission’s key areas of work while lowering to some extent its public profile in accordance with the desire to increase the focus on national institutions.
Vital Cooperation of Authorities
How lasting an imprint CICIG can leave in Guatemala will depend not only on the Commission’s efforts, but the cooperation it receives from the key branches of government.
President Otto Perez Molina, a former army general, took office in January 2012 following an election campaign in which he pledged a tough approach to public security. The President’s early commitments to cooperate closely with CICIG and to support processes of reform in the justice system have been welcomed by Dall’Anese.
The Commission’s closest counterpart is the Public Prosecutor’s Office. A special unit within the Office carries out investigations and prosecutions jointly with CICIG. The Commission also works with its sections on human rights, organized crime and money laundering. CICIG has registered improvements in the professionalism of the Office’s investigations and has strongly commended its current head, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey, for bringing increased competence and dedication to the position. The Commission plans to step up its joint prosecutorial work and its training in the period ahead.
Guatemala’s Interior Ministry and National Police are also important institutions to strengthen. They have been plagued over the years by resource deficits, corruption and turnover in leadership. CICIG plans to work over the coming period on improving information management by the police and creating a specialized criminal investigation unit. The Commission has cited improving cooperation with the Ministry in the past year.
A third key sector is the judiciary. In addition to its efforts to professionalize the judicial appointments process, CICIG has voiced frustration with judicial decisions in several key cases the Commission brought before the tribunals. In its fourth annual report issued in September 2011, the Commission said greater judicial independence and transparency were “urgently” required. Highlighting increasing collaboration with the judiciary, Dall’Anese has lauded the commitment of the new Supreme Court president to combat corruption and to work with CICIG.
Need for Legal Reforms
CICIG will also continue its efforts on the legislative front. While several important laws have been adopted at its urging, the Commission has expressed disappointment at a lack of action in Congress on other legislation it considers necessary to equip Guatemalan justice officials with modern tools to fight crime. Most recently, Dall’Anese has put forward a package of anti-corruption legislation and the Commission is also supporting constitutional reforms to guarantee the independence of the judiciary.
CICIG’s work has been enhanced by its coordination with UN agencies, funds and programmes present in Guatemala, some of which have been heavily engaged in justice issues. UNICEF and the United Nations Development Programme, for instance, have collaborated closely with CICIG. As the Commission considers the need to build national capacities for the long-term, CICIG and its Guatemalan partners will look increasingly to the support of UN system entities to sustain the Organization’s strong commitment in the rule of law area. The Secretary-General’s decision to include Guatemala in the Peace Building Fund, earmarking $10 million for justice sector work, will help in this task.
A Model for Other Countries?
At a time of growing demand for UN assistance in the criminal justice area, the CICIG experience is being closely scrutinized for its applicability elsewhere. Within Central America, there is an increasing recognition by governments that only by working together can progress be made in combating organized crime, drug trafficking and the impact these are having on society. DPA, partnering with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, is exploring ways the United Nations can support these regional efforts.
Website of the
International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala