The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG): Success and Dependency
The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known by its Spanish acronym, CICIG, is the first program of its kind in dealing with the problem of organized crime. Peace agreements signed in Guatemala in 1996 put to rest an era of political violence within the country, but organized crime continued to plague the country and its citizens in the years that followed.Following the request of the Guatemalan government for help addressing the problem of impunity, CICIG was established on December 12, 2006 and then put into effect September 4, 2007 as a joint effort of the United Nations and the Guatemalan government.Thus, while CICIG receives financial and technical support from the international community, it operates within Guatemalan law and the Guatemalan Court System.
Since its implementation, CICIG has played a key role in strengthening the national justice system and the investigative and prosecutorial institutions involved in criminal cases, supporting numerous legal reforms, and strengthening state and democratic institutions. To date CICIG has conducted more than 200 investigations which have resulted in charges against powerful criminal operatives and over 160 current or former government and public officials. CICIG’s mandate establishes 3 main objectives:
- The investigation of illegal and clandestine bodies responsible for organized crimes and the identification of their structures, operations, financing, and ties to state officials and institutions.
- Supporting Guatemalan institutions in their investigations and prosecutions while carrying out disciplinary action and providing recommendations to the Guatemalan government for policies and procedures to dismantle illegal and clandestine groups and strengthening the state’s ability to protect the human rights of the citizenry.
- The provision of technical assistance to the justice sector so that Guatemalan institutions may operate independently and sustain the achievements accomplishment by CICIG at the end of the mandate.
CICIG’s two-year mandate has been extended twice and continues to work towards the goal of ending impunity. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina will decide whether to ask the UN to extend the mandate for another two years this September. On February 25, 2015, IvánVelásquez, the current Commissioner of CICIG, delivered a report of CICIG’s past eight years in Guatemala to the executive commission in charge of evaluating CICIG’s work. However, recent reports indicate that Molina is opposed to a third extension despite urging from the international community.
Lessons from the Past Eight Years of CICIG
The following are three broad takeaways from the past eight years of the program:
- Change is possible in Guatemala, but a group of foreigners alone cannot achieve success without the support and participation of the Guatemalan citizens. Cooperation and dialogue between CICIG and its Guatemalan counterparts is essential to this end.
- The numerous extensions of CICIG mandate are a reminder that strengthening of justice sector institutions, legal reform, and overall democratization consolidation are long-term endeavors. The original two-year time period was clearly not enough time to fulfill CICIG’s mandate in Guatemala.
- However, it is also important to note that although the long-term commitment of the international community and donors is essential to progress in Guatemala, the presence of these actors at the same time can threaten domestic institutions and processes and make them externally dependent. The activities of CICIG must focus on creating a sustainable legacy for Guatemalan institutions and allow for increasing responsibility to be given to these domestic institutions.
Local and Historical Context in Guatemala
In 1996, Guatemala signed the Peace Accords ending a 36-year armed civil conflict. This marked the beginning of Guatemala’s path to democracy. However, over a decade later, Guatemala still suffers from enormously high rates of organized crime and a largely ineffective justice system.These crimes are committed by illegal and clandestine groups which arose during the decades of internal conflict in Guatemala.
The total homicides per year in Guatemala totals around 6,000 and only about 2% of these crimes ever go to trial, indicating an alarming rate of impunity. High-profile crimes also leave indicators that illegal and clandestine groups have infiltrated state institutions, threatening both the rule of law, the protection of human rights, and democracy itself. While many of the older groups that sprung directly from the internal conflict have lost their influence, they have given rise to newer groups which continue to use violence, corruption, and the obstruction of justice for their criminal activities.
Guatemala is located on the drug trafficking routes from South American, meaning new opportunities for the new and old criminal groups. Guatemala’s authorities have been unsuccessful in controlling the activity of these groups, partly due to the infiltration of these groups into state institutions making investigations and prosecutions a hard challenge. In addition to a worsening security situation, this has led to the Guatemalan citizenry’s mistrust of the justice system and has caught the attention of the international community.
Guatemala experienced a wave of attacks against human rights defenders in 2002, leading the pressure on the Guatemalan government to investigate the activities of its illegal and clandestine groups. In 2003, Guatemala asked the UN for assistance in the investigation and prosecution of these groups, leading to a drafted agreement between the UN and Guatemala in 2004. However, this original agreement was strongly opposed by the Guatemalan Congress due to constitutional violations that were part of the agreement. Thus the government of Guatemala redrafted the agreement and reapproached the UN at the end of 2005. The new agreement between the Government of Guatemala and the UN establishing the CICIG was then signed December 12, 2006 and ratified by the Guatemalan Congress on August 1, 2007. CICIG took effect later that year on September 4. Shortly after, Spanish prosecutor Carlos CastresanaFernández was appointed by the Secretary General of the UN to lead as commissioner of CICIG.After Carlos Castresana’s resignation in 2010, Francisco Dall’Anese, Costa Rica’s former Attorney General, was appointed as the new commissioner.Colombian judge and prosecutor IvánVelásquez then took over the position of commissioner in 2013.
Brief Explanation of Key International and Local Actors
CICIG was established as an independent international body to mainly support the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP), in charge of prosecution and criminal investigation, the National Civic Police (PNC) and other Guatemalan State institutions. The Special Anti-Impunity Prosecutor’s Bureau (UEFAC) was established simultaneously with CICIG to investigate high-impact cases as determined by the Attorney General of Guatemala and the Commissioner of CICIG.
CICIG interacts with various other Guatemalan institutions such as the Ministry of the Interior and the Prison System which are tasked with public security and the administration of prisons as well asthe Judiciary (OJ) and Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ). In addition, CICIG interacts with UN agencies within Guatemala such as UNDP, UN Women, and UNICEF.
CICIG is funded by voluntary contributions from the international community, with its largest donors being the EU and its member states (especially Spain, Sweden, and Netherlands) and the United States.
The entire population of Guatemala stands to benefit from this project and their continued support and participation are crucial to the success of the program.
Achievementsof CICIG in Guatemala
Criminal Prosecutions and Cases
To date CICIG has conducted more than 200 investigations which have resulted in charges against powerful criminal operatives and over 160 current or former government officials. In addition, it has worked with prosecutors to investigate at least fifteen networks related to organized crime and corruption. Specific examples of cases follow:
- Prosecution of former “untouchable” senior state and military officials: In partnership with Guatemalan prosecutors, CICIG led the prosecution of former president Portillo and several senior military officers for embezzlement and corruption. CICIG’s investigation led to Portillo’s 2013 extradition to the United States where he was sentenced to six years imprisonment for money laundering.
- Unraveling of unlawful network of high-level security: In August 2013, a CICIG investigation unraveled a parallel structure within the Interior Ministry that carried out extrajudicial killings, “social cleansing” operations, money laundering, drug trafficking, and extortion. The investigation led to the indictment of 19 people connected to the execution of ten prisoners at El Pavón and El Infiernito prisons in addition to the 2007 killings Central American Parliament (Parlacen) members and other killings of police officials and investigators.
- Dismantling of prison enterprise: CICIG and the Public Ministry identified and dismantled a multi- million dollar criminal structure run by former army captain Byron Lima. Byron Lima was imprisoned for the 1998 assassination of Archbishop Juan Gerardi. Lima and twelve other high-level state agents, including the director and deputy director of the national prison system, have been charged for running a money-laundering empire from within prison walls, in addition of being accused of extortion and arranging prisoner transfers for cash.
- The Mendoza crime family: In 2014, CICIG assisted in the capture of Harold Mendoza Matta. Mendoza was the leader of a private army of assassins in control of large areas in northern Guatemala as well as the drug trade. The Mendoza family has been linked to the corruption of business and political elites.
CICIG has createdmany adopted and soon to be implementedlaw reform proposals. Some notable reforms are listed here:
- In 2009, CICIG assisted Guatemala’s Congress in the establishment of new procedures for selecting senior judges and the attorney general. These new procedures include minimum requirements for judicial posts and clearer regulation and oversight of the process.
- On April 14, 2009, Congress passed the Law to Enhance Criminal Prosecution and then later passed Decree 23-2009 of the Law against Organized Crime. The law provides legal benefits to members of criminal organizations that provide important information in the investigation of these groups and leading to their dismantling. The law also protects witnesses by permitting them to give testimony through a videoconference.
- CICIG has supported the creation of “high-risk” courts by the Guatemalan Congress. Since 2009 these specialized courts have been used for organized crime, human rights abuses, and other complex cases. On August 4, 2009, Congress passed the Law on Criminal Jurisdiction in High-risk Matters , a legal reform proposed by CICIG. The law deals with jurisdiction so that specialized courts make rulings on cases in which there is high risk posed to the of safety of judges, prosecutors, defendants, witnesses.
CICIG provides technical assistance to State institutions involved in the investigation and prosecution of organized crimes. Examples of such assistance follow:
- Witness Protection Program: CICIG provided basic training to 48 graduates of the National Civil Police Academy to work exclusively to protect witnesses in the program.
- Telephone tapping: In November of 2008, the Attorney General, the Ministry of the Interior, and CICIG signed an agreement implementing the use of a phone tapping system. CICIG negotiated funding and procuring of the equipment and established a center to monitor and intercept communications.
Strengthening the Democratic System
CICIG has in many ways helped to strengthen the democratic system. It has investigated public authorities and funding to political parties, unraveled networks of corruption and conspiracy, and monitored the selection of court justices. Some notable accomplishments are listed below:
- CICIG’s investigations of corruption and criminal activitieshave led to the prosecution of four ministers, charges brought up against two police directors, and the removal of some 1,700 police officers and over 50 prosecutors and investigators.In addition, CICIG’s work has led to the dismantling of at least five criminal structures composed of police officials.
- The Rosenberg case: CICIG’s investigation of the murder of Rodrigo Rosenberg, a Guatemalan lawyer and former director of the Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce revealed that Rosenberg had arranged his own death in order to destabilize the government. The resolution of this case saved the government from a major crisis and possible coup.
- CICIG intelligence and advocacy has led to the dismissal of two attorney generals, and facilitated the appointment of the country’s most reform-minded chief prosecutor in a generation.
CICIG has undeniably served an important role in battling impunity is Guatemala. It has carried out numerous successful criminal investigations, introduced and implemented several impactful legal reforms, and overall has worked to strengthen the justice system and other democratic institutions in Guatemala. However, many challenges remain and impunity continues to be a problem in Guatemala. State institutions are still weak and infiltration by criminal groups continues to be a problem. Resistance to reforms and general distrust of state institutions still exists amongst Guatemalans, although CICIG has demonstrated to some extent that change in possible with the cooperation of Guatemalan institutions.
Of greatest concern now that CICIG’s mandate is up for renewal in September, is that CICIG has not yet achieved its ultimate end, in which Guatemalan institutions can stand on their own in the fight against impunity.Guatemala does not yet have substantial control over criminal groups within the country and various Guatemalan civil society organizations and various opposition parties have expressed their support for the continual involvement of CICIG in Guatemala beyond this year, despite conflicting statements by President Molina.The ability for Guatemalan institutions to operate and fight impunity on their own must continually remain the focus of the program. The initial two year period of CICIG was clearly insufficient to achieve the goals of its mandate, but the longer it operates within Guatemala, the more cautious it must be against creating a dependent structure.
Finally, CICIG has potential to serve as a model for other countries plagued by organized crime and impunity.CICIG, although not without opposition, is rooted in Guatemalan civil society and cannot succeed without Guatemalan institutions, which lends to its legitimacy within Guatemala. It was designed based on local context and the specific needs of Guatemala. Through its successes, CICIG has proven that justice is possible in Guatemala, and other countries may stand to benefit from the CICIG model restructured and tailored to their own context. 
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