In Defence of CICIG

Whilst CICIG-the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala- is no stranger to criticism, it has come under attack in recent weeks, the intensity of which seems to be aimed at delegitimising the very basis of the organisation. During this time it is wise to remember who the CICIG are, what its mandate is and the influence it has had in the country since its arrival. CICIG was founded in 2006 due to concerns over corruption in the justice system. Their mandate was prolonged in 2009 at the request of the current head of state, Alvaro Colom with funding until September 2011. Crucially, the organisation’s mandate has been very clear from the start; that is, to carry out the following three functions: First, CICIG shall investigate the existence of illicit security forces and clandestine security organizations that commit crimes that affect the fundamental human rights of the citizens of Guatemala, and identify the illegal group structures (including links between State officials and organized crime), activities, and modes of operation and sources of financing. Second, CICIG’s professional personnel shall support the work of Guatemalan institutions, principally the Attorney General in his work to investigate and prosecute the individuals involved in the illegal groups. Additionally, CICIG will make recommendations to the Government for the adoption of new public policies mechanisms and procedures directed at the eradication of these groups and will strengthen the State’s capacity to protect the basic human rights of its citizens. Third, the Commission shall provide technical assistance to Justice Sector institutions in order to leave the Public Prosecutors Office and National Civilian Police better equipped to fight organized crime even after the conclusion of CICIG’s mandate. The roles represent CICIG’s commitment to deconstructing the institutionalised corruption of the state as well as strengthening the judiciary and its independence from state politics. There has always been an understanding that the CICIG has been designed with the short term in mind, but with a view to leaving a lasting legacy of a stronger, more independent state and judiciary. On top of capacity building, the organisation has had some successful cases that appear doomed had it not been for their work. The most obvious of which is the Rosenberg case, (Guatemala has the justice it pays for.) which received international attention. It has also reformed law on gun ownership, and the use of amparos (a way of delaying legal processes). Finally the success of removing Conrado Reyes as Attorney General has been an important step considering his strong connection with organised crime. Criticism at Castresana and CICIG has been vocal and aggressive since the Rosenberg case, and grew with Castresana’s damning report and subsequent removal of Conrado Reyes as attorney general. The pressure surrounding the Constitutional Court’s decision in removing Reyes was highlighted when the following day, four decapitated heads were left in strategic places round Guatemala city, with notes threatening Alvaro Colom. Strident criticism has resurfaced recently surrounding the arrest of ex-minister of the interior, Carlos Vielman in Spain on charges of extrajudicial killings along with former National Director of Police Erwin Sperise on the same grounds, both, during the tenure of the Berger government. In particular ex-vice minister Eduardo Stein’s (the same Eduardo Stein heading the Honduran truth commission) comments have been critical (http://www.lahora.com.gt/notas.php?key=74988&fch=2010-10-18), though this should not be considered surprising considering CICIG is looking into corruption amongst other things in the administration he served in. More obscurely, criticism has been raised connecting CICIG with the Alvaro Colom government, the Guatemala Times for example has received hate mail for their support of CICIG, with critics citing collusion between the institutions (http://www.guatemala-times.com/opinion/editorial/1825-why-we-defend-cicig-the-international-commission-against-impunity-in-guatemala.html). If such claims are genuine in this denouncement, perhaps they arise from Colom’s decision to extend their mandate in 2009, beyond that however, the criticism makes very little sense. For one, it took a battle for Castresana -and indeed his eventual resignation- to convince the Colom Government to have Reyes investigated (something that should have been a matter of course). Indeed, Castresana cited a ‘lack of cooperation’ from the government as a key cause for his resignation in the spring of this year. Such criticism smacks of the same kind of contradictions as Stein who came out in strong support of the establishment of CICIG until recently, when investigations of ex-colleagues are resulting in arrests; perhaps they are knocking too close to home. Supporting symbols of justice and democracy allows for the facade of state legitimacy, which in turn offers financial incentives and international cooperation. The test comes with actions taken and it seems that the criticisms levelled at what CICIG is trying to implement are thinly veiled efforts at defending the interests of the Guatemalan oligarchy.

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