Do we need another anti-impunity commission?

You might think that the only anti-impunity measure that Guatemala needs is to have a justice system that works. However, that is simple to say and very difficult to bring about after “agents or former agents of the State have woven a secret, behind-the-scenes network dedicated to obstructing justice. They have created a virtual alternative government that functions clandestinely with its own standardized and consistent modus operandi. In such a context, crimes are not clarified, and those responsible are not identified. Society finally forgets the cases and becomes resigned”, according to the Institute of Political, Economic and Social Studies in 2000.

Did you think we already have an anti-impunity mechanism already – CICIG? Yes, but it has a very restricted mandate in its timeframe, only two years, which runs out in September. It is also very specifically focussed on looking at parallel structures embedded in organs of the state, not at crime in general. President Colom has reportedly already asked for CICIG’s mandate extended by another two years. This seems a good thing to me, as previously remarked on CICIG’s first annual report it had hardly got going in its first year and clearly would need more time to achieve anything.

President Colom has, as I implied, recently announced another anti-impunity commission, to work hand in hand with CICIG.
This will have a wider mandate to look at the whole issue of impunity for all crime, especially organised crime and drug trafficking, and not just the impunity caused by a compromised state. However, it seems that it is going to suffer from the very problem that the CICIG was designed to get around: that it is part of the Guatemalan state. One of the innovative features of CICIG was that it was on the outside, staffed by some foreigners, funded by the international community via the UN, working in cooperation with the organs of the Guatemalan state but not directed by them. This was supposed to make it easier for it to make progress with cases.

One of CICIG’s expressed aims in its first annual report is to make sure that any public official who obstructs cases that it wishes to pursue should be disciplined or brought to justice. In the first real test of its effectiveness CICIG is currently struggling. It initiated a case against Alvaro Matus, the former prosecutor in charge of the investigation into the murder of Victor Rivera and other high profile crimes. Victor Rivera was an adviser to the Minister of the Interior who was releived of his post two days before his murder. Rivera was investigating the case of the Salvadoran congressmen and the possible motive for his murder is alleged to be that he “knew too much”.

The response to this case was to almost immediately release Mr Matus on $2000 bail. Carlos Castresana, the director of CICIG, who up until now has remained rather quiet, dispensed with diplomatic language in his complaints about the reigning impunity in the country following this. Having agreed to give a radio interview, reported in elPeriodico here, he used it as a platform to call to all Guatemalans to do something about impunity, as “a small bunch of foreigners” cannot, and to change their attitude of looking the other way. President Colom has obviously heard his call, but I’m afraid I’m with a lot of Guatemalans in giving a resigned shoulder shrug – so will anything change? I would really like to be wrong.

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Categories: Justice, Legal

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