WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
27 Jul 2007 | News

Senator Patrick Leahy on the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG)

Mr. LEAHY.   Last week, I spoke in this chamber about the current debate underway in Guatemala concerning the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).  In my brief remarks I recalled the 30 years of civil war that caused widespread atrocities against civilians, particularly Guatemala’s Mayan population.  A substantial majority of those killings and disappearances were perpetrated by Guatemalan security forces.    

Since the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, most Guatemalans have tried to put the past behind them and rebuild their country.  The United States and other donors have supported that effort.    

But key aspects of the Peace Accords remain unfulfilled, and there has been no justice for the families of the war’s many victims.  Meanwhile, gang violence, drug trafficking, brutal killings of women, and attacks against human rights defenders and others who speak out against corruption and impunity have increased exponentially and threaten the very foundations of Guatemala’s fragile democracy.

In recent years, the Guatemalan Government has worked with officials of the United Nations to draft the CICIG agreement, the latest version of which has been upheld by Guatemala’s constitutional court.

The CICIG is necessary to expose the truth about clandestine groups and to bring accountability for the violence.  Far from weakening national sovereignty, CICIG will support Guatemala by helping to strengthen the capacity of the country’s dysfunctional judicial system.

On July 18, a majority of members of the International Relations Committee of the Guatemalan Congress, for reasons that only they can explain, voted against the CICIG agreement.  Since then, several have changed their votes and I understand that on August 1st the full Congress will approve or reject the CICIG agreement or refer it to another committee. 

The question of whether or not to approve CICIG is, of course, a decision solely for Guatemala’s Congress to make.  But the importance of this historic decision cannot be overstated for U.S.-Guatemalan relations and for Guatemala’s future.

Guatemala, like many impoverished countries emerging from years of civil conflict, faces immense social, economic and political challenges.  Without the support of countries like the United States in building its economy, promoting foreign investment and trade, and strengthening the institutions of democracy, Guatemala will lag behind its neighbors.

Today, that support hangs in the balance. 

The Bush Administration has voiced strong support for CICIG.  The U.S. Congress has linked a resumption of U.S. assistance for the Guatemalan Armed Forces, in part, on approval of CICIG.  In addition, I would be reluctant to support assistance for Guatemala to take part in any regional security initiative with the United States, unless CICIG is approved and supported.  There is little point in trying to work with a government that fails to demonstrate a strong commitment to ending impunity and to combating gang violence and corruption, which have infiltrated the very institutions that would participate in such a strategy.    

CICIG is nothing less than a choice between the past and the future.  Rejecting this historic initiative – an outcome most Americans would find inexplicable – would signal that the Guatemalan Congress is more interested in protecting the forces of evil, and in covering up the truth, than in ending the lawlessness that is taking Guatemala backwards. 

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