For Immediate Release: August 2, 2007
NEW YORK – The Guatemalan Congress vote August 1 to approve an international commission of experts to help investigate and prosecute organized crime is a groundbreaking decision, according to Human Rights First, a New York-based international human rights organization.
“This unique Commission is a vital tool to break the culture of impunity in Guatemala and reduce levels of violence” said Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director of Human Rights First. “In particular, we hope that the Commission will create a safer environment for human rights defenders. Ninety-eight percent of the nearly 300 attacks each year against human rights defenders are not investigated and only a handful of cases have resulted in convictions.”
Guatemala’s 36-year civil war ended in 1996, but some of those responsible for committing the worst atrocities during that period formed illegal security organizations. These groups now rival the State in power and are involved in organized crime, drug trafficking, violence, and attacks against human rights defenders. The Guatemalan government sought the assistance of the United Nations, rightly realizing that its own institutions were too weak, intimidated and corrupt to effectively investigate these groups.
Approval today of the joint Guatemalan – United Nations Commission against Impunity (CICIG) brings to a close almost five years’ worth of wrangling over its establishment. The hybrid Commission is the first of its kind and has important functions to determine the extent of the illegal security organizations and their relations with State entities. It will also strengthen Guatemalan judicial institutions by assisting in the investigation and prosecution of such groups.
The relatively small Commission will be headed by an individual appointed by the U.N. Secretary-General. It will consist of both international and Guatemalan investigators, forensic experts, prosecutors and jurists familiar with human rights, criminal and international law. It will have a renewable mandate of two years.
Human Rights First has long advocated the establishment of CICIG with the U.S. government, Guatemalan government, the U.N., and other international human rights bodies. Most recently the group sent a petition with over 1,000 signatures to the Guatemala Congress urging it to ratify the CICIG agreement, which it did with today’s vote.