Based on the findings of its recent assessment report on Guatemala, the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) calls on the Government of Guatemala to demonstrate its commitment to overcoming corruption and impunity by reaffirming its support for the work of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) under its current Commissioner, Mr. Iván Velásquez.
Efforts to obstruct the work of the Commission by seeking the removal of Mr. Velásquez and prematurely ending its work risk leaving Guatemala without effective means of addressing patterns of corruption committed by illegal groups. These groups originated during the internal conflict and have since become associated with transnational organised crime. The inability of the justice system to cope with these networks has long threatened democratic stability in the country and the region.
ILAC was established in 2002 to facilitate cooperation by international and regional actors involved in rebuilding justice systems and the rule of law in conflict-affected countries. In 2017, ILAC selected a delegation of experts from candidates put forward by its 52 member organizations to carry out an assessment of the justice sector in Guatemala. The delegation traveled to Guatemala in October 2017, meeting with over 150 Guatemalans, including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, human rights defenders and business leaders.
The report of the mission, available both in English and in Spanish, identified severe ongoing rule of law challenges in Guatemala and recognised the crucial role the CICIG has played under Mr. Velásquez’s tenure in supporting the Attorney General´s Office to address them.
It also recognises CICIG´s contributions in supporting institutional changes, new legislation, reforms of pre-trial detention, and building institutional capacity.
Without diminishing the role of the many brave and committed lawyers, judges, prosecutors and human rights defenders working to ensure transparency and accountability in Guatemala, the ILAC expert team noted the overwhelming scale of their task. Despite institutional efforts to modernise the judicial system, the report identified a series of challenges that threaten or diminish judicial independence in Guatemala.
In this context, the ILAC experts found that support from CICIG had been decisive in assisting national justice operators to achieve “impressive milestones in promoting accountability and transparency that can stand as a precedent for the entire region.” During the tenure of Mr. Velásquez, in particular, CICIG has uncovered high-level corruption at a shocking scale and assisted the national justice operators that have investigated and prosecuted these crimes. In concluding, the ILAC report makes the following recommendations to the Government of Guatemala:
- Respect the mandate of the CICIG and take all necessary steps to support its work.
- Cooperate actively with CICIG in combatting corruption and abstain from any action that could obstruct the CICIG´s work in the country.
As the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights pointed out in its last report on Guatemala, the State has an obligation “to ensure that its apparatus provides prompt and effective justice.” The Commission accordingly recommended that “the State should continue to allow the CICIG’s head Commissioner Iván Velásquez, to continue work jointly with the Public Prosecution Service without interference and with the appropriate resources and the requisite guarantees.”
More recently, ILAC member the American Bar Association concluded that “it would be impossible to instill the rule of law within Guatemala at this time without the support of an international body. While many prosecutors and judges have – at great personal risk – performed their responsibilities with integrity, the pressures on the criminal justice sector writ large are so great that it is not currently able to operate independently without international support.”
Another ILAC member, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has expressed its concern that the rule of law in Guatemala is under threat, and that if CICIG and Iván Velásquez are not allowed to continue their work in the country under an extended mandate, the fight against corruption and impunity will be affected.
In light of the remarkable achievements made by CICIG to date and the scale of the remaining task, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales’ recent decision to wind down CICIG’s work prematurely and prevent Mr. Velásquez from reentering the country risks plunging the country back into the type of full-blown crisis of impunity and insecurity that CICIG was created in 2006 to help address.
Proceeding from the recommendations of its experts, ILAC accordingly urges the Government of Guatemala to reconsider its decision, and to take all necessary steps to ensure that CICIG under Mr. Velásquez is enabled to effectively fulfill the tasks foreseen in its mandate.