In 2007, facing rampant violence and corruption, the government of Guatemala asked the United Nations to provide institutional support for its beleaguered criminal justice system.
At first, the new International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (known by its Spanish acronym, CICIG) seemed to have little chance of success. Its team of international and local investigators and lawyers faced determined opposition from entrenched powers in Guatemala. It was hampered by misconceptions at the UN and uncertainty over its mandate. Despite some successes, periods of frustration and drift led to the resignations of its first two commissioners.
Yet CICIG has helped Guatemala score a series of dramatic victories for the rule of law, including the spectacular exposure in 2015 of the massive La Línea corruption scheme, which led to the resignation and arrest of President Otto Pérez Molina. It also helped Guatemala develop the system of “high-risk” courts that have conducted trials of former senior military officers accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during Guatemala’s long civil war, including the trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt.
The Open Society Justice Initiative has just published the first assessment of this unique and continuing experiment in transitional justice. Against the Odds: CICIG in Guatemala tells the story of the UN-backed commission from from its controversial, convoluted founding, through its struggles, to its success, alongside local prosecutors, in exposing La Línea.
In addition to reading the report on our website, you can download our latest Talking Justice podcast to hear its author Patrick Gavigan talking to Jim Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative, about what worked, what didn’t, and the implications for Guatemala and the region.