WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
26 Sep 2006 | | News

Illegal Armed Groups: A Threat to the Administration of Justice and Rule of Law in Guatemala

The Americas Society and the Council of the Americas, in conjunction with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), hosted a roundtable discussion with former U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala John R. Hamilton to examine the current security situation in Guatemala. Participants discussed the continued existence of illegal armed groups in Guatemala and the threat these groups pose to the administration of justice and the rule of law. This summary provides an overview of the main points from the discussion.
One of the biggest problems Guatemala currently faces is the existence of so-called “clandestine groups.” An unresolved legacy of the 36-year internal armed conflict, these criminal groups are believed to flourish because of close ties with elements of the former State security apparatus. The individuals and groups involved oversee and profit from a variety of illegal activities, which often involve the improper exercise of influence in the State and include connections to drug trafficking, contraband, money laundering and other forms of organized criminal activities.
The inability of the justice system to effectively investigate and dismantle these groups is what inspired civil society organizations to request the participation of the international community in investigating the clandestine groups. In January 2004, the previous administration signed a landmark agreement with the United Nations (UN) to create the Commission for the Investigation of Illegal Armed Groups and Clandestine Security Organizations (CICIACS). The UN-led Commission intended to work within the legal system to investigate the structure and activities of these groups and any links they may have to former or current state actors. However, the process stalled after Guatemala’s Constitutional Court rendered key aspects of the agreement unconstitutional in August 2004.
Ambassador Hamilton addressed the extent to which the activities of the “clandestine groups” have undermined judicial and law enforcement institutions, becoming one of the biggest threats to the consolidation of democracy in Guatemala. For Guatemala to be effective in seeking the kind of investment that will generate economic growth and reduce poverty, the existence of these clandestine groups will have to be addressed. Confronting the clandestine groups is an issue that the United States government has defined as one of its top priorities in its relations with Guatemala.
In closing, Ambassador Hamilton spoke about the renewed negotiations currently underway between the United Nations and the Guatemalan government to establish the CICIACS. If established, the Commission would assist local authorities in investigating and developing prosecutable cases against these groups. Ambassador Hamilton encouraged civil society actors and the international business community to support efforts to establish the CICIACS. “The international business community invested in or interested in investing in Guatemala has a legitimate interest in being able to operate in a largely crime-free business environment. The CICIACS is a constructive, creative and innovative proposal for helping to bring such an environment to fruition.”
This summary is published by the Americas Society and Council of the Americas, non-partisan organizations founded to promote better understanding and dialogue in the Western Hemisphere, working in collaboration to advance their respective missions. The Americas Society is a public charity described in I.R.C. Section 501(c)(3), and Council of the Americas, a business league under I.R.C. Section 501(c)(6). The positions and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors or guest commentators and speakers and do not represent those of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas or its members or the Boards of Directors of either organization. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.