WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
12 Dec 2006 | News

UN Signs Agreement to Combat Illegal Armed Groups in Guatemala

Washington, DC – The Guatemalan government and the United Nations signed an agreement today to establish a UN-led Commission to investigate the existence of illegal security forces and clandestine security organizations operating in Guatemala and to promote the subsequent prosecution in local courts of individuals involved in these groups. “The ‘International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala – CICIG’ provides a vital opportunity to combat and dismantle one of the biggest threats to the rule of law in Guatemala,” said Joy Olson, Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America.

A legacy of the internal armed conflict, the clandestine groups are illicit structures that use violence to protect their political and illicit financial interests. They allegedly have established links with state officials, former and active members of the security apparatus, businesspeople and organized criminal networks. Over the last several years, they have plagued the country by terrorizing judges, witnesses, prosecutors, political leaders, human rights defenders and others. In the first half of 2005 alone, six members of the justice sector were assassinated. So far this year, five politicians have been brutally murdered, raising serious concerns about a potential escalation of violence in light of next year’s presidential race. Unfortunately, the considerable influence of the clandestine groups with state actors and their propensity for violent reprisals have impaired the Guatemalan authorities’ ability to effectively investigate them. 

“The wall of impunity that these groups have constructed to avoid prosecution has undermined the justice system,” said Adriana Beltrán, Associate of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

With an initial life-span of two years, the UN-led commission will seek to determine the existence of illegal security groups and clandestine security organizations, their structure, forms of operation, sources of financing and possible links to State actors or other sectors. By assisting local institutions charged with investigating and prosecuting crimes, the Commission seeks to promote the dismantling of these networks and prosecution of individuals involved in their illegal activities. 

“The CICIG needs to be seen as an innovative model for post-conflict societies defending their fledgling democracies from impunity, corruption and organized crime,” said Beltrán.

“People have complained for years about the influence of illegal armed groups in Guatemala. Now there is a mechanism to confront them, and the US and international community must act quickly to back it up,” said Olson.

In order for the CICIG to move from the drawing board to creation, the agreement must first be ratified by the Guatemalan Congress. “If Guatemala is serious about fighting impunity, violence and corruption, all sectors of society must embrace the CICIG,” said Beltrán. The agreement is expected to go to the Guatemalan Congress in early January 2007.