Guatemala Debates Future of UN-backed International Commission against Impunity

Since 2007, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known by its Spanish acronym CICIG, has played a unique role in supporting the country’s efforts to confront criminality and corruption, and to reinforce the rule of law.

CICIG is a joint effort of the United Nations and the Guatemalan government: it receives financial and technical support from the international community, and is led by international staff, but it operates within Guatemalan law and the Guatemalan court system. CICIG’s current two-year mandate expires in September this year, with the decision on whether or not to seek an extension to be taken by President Otto Pérez Molina.

President Pérez Molina has in the past expressed doubts about CICIG’s role; in recent comments he has chosen to leave the question of its future open. Thus, after U.S. vice president Joseph Biden indicated his support for CICIG’s work to continue earlier this month, President Pérez Molina said only  that his government was continuing its evaluation, while stressing that he was not going to accept any “impositions.”

CICIG’s supporters in Guatemala argue that it remains a vital support for the institutions of the state. An editorial in La Hora, Guatemala’s evening paper, argued earlier this month that last year’s scandal over corruption in the selection of top judges showed that “now more than ever we need the help of the international community”.  A columnist in El Periodico, a leading independent daily, declared that cooperation with CICIG had “benefited and strengthened” Guatemala, while urging President Pérez Molina to support its continued work.

Against this background, the  Open Society Justice Initiative has released a new review of the performance of the UN-backed body, concluding that it remains an “indispensable partner” in the country’s continuing battle against organized criminality and official corruption.

The 9-page review Unfinished Business states: “In the past eight years, CICIG has played a crucial role in Guatemala in strengthening state investigative and prosecutorial institutions, advancing paradigmatic corruption cases and the prosecution of powerful criminals, providing international support for much-needed legal reform, and strengthening—and even safeguarding— state institutions and the democratic system.”

The report highlights achievements that include supporting the creation of “high risk” courts used to handle major criminal cases (“high risk” court cases have included the prosecution two years ago of former military leader Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity, the first prosecution for genocide before a domestic court).

According to James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative: “The notable successes that Guatemala has achieved together with CICIG would have been unthinkable without this partnership.”