Courtesy of Amnesty International ©
Almost 15 years after the peace agreements which put an end to the civil war, impunity continues to be truly a scourge in Guatemala. The lack of resources and the inefficiency of the police services and of the judiciary, together with widespread corruption, have led the people to a total loss of confidence in the country’s institutions.
The situation is particularly serious with respect to extra judicial killings. Numerous institutions and organisations for example make use of a practice known by the term “social cleansing”, consisting of the elimination of people living on the edge of society (delinquents, prostitutes etc.). Of the ca. 6’000 cases of homicide registered in 2008, numerous cases were the result of extrajudicial executions, often following torture, committed by the police or murders committed in prison centres with the complicity of the penitentiary authorities.
Guatemala has ratified several human rights conventions and has therefore an obligation to respect the right to life of every individual, and in particular to prevent any violation of this right on the part of agents of the State. Despite these commitments, successive governments have demonstrated a total lack of political will to open up inquiries into extrajudicial executions committed during and after the internal armed conflict and to take up proceedings against those responsible. Precisely, with respect to the countless murders, massacres and disappearances which took place during the civil war, it is abroad that proceedings have been opened up against those holding major responsibility such as the former president Efrain Rios Montt, and not in Guatemala!
A new Actor
The creation of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) by virtue of an agreement signed on 12 December 2006 between the United Nations and the Government of Guatemala has provided the first rays of hope in the fight against impunity.
As an independent institution, CICIG has a mandate to assist the Office of the Prosecutor of Guatemala, the National Police Force and other investigative institutions involved in t
he dismantling of cells linked to organised crime and to drug trafficking. CICIG has also the power to conduct its own inquiries to help the authorities to refer the most significant cases to the national judiciary. The stated objective of CICIG is not simply to take proceedings against those responsible, but mainly to reinforce the national criminal justice system and to help it with its reforms.
As of today, CICIG has led inquiries into some twenty cases and is involved in its role as Deputy Prosecutor in eight other cases. It is CICIG which conducted the investigations leading to the issuance of an arrest warrant against Erwin Sperisen and 17 other persons including several former highly placed political figures.
Following the prolongation of its mandate for a further two years, CICIG will have to continue to fight against the paralysis of the justice system until September 2011 but this only provides a temporary solution. The role of CICIG is in fact limited on the one hand by its mandate which is restricted solely to organised crime and on the other hand by the corruption of the authorities, be they legislative, executive or judiciary, which poses a threat and a challenge to its investigations.