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24 Jun 2010 | | News

Statement of Senator Leahy about the CICIG in Guatemala

Senator Patrick Leahy comments on the need for the UN to appoint a replacement CICIG Commissioner with demonstrated expertise, the need for the Guatemalan government to select a new Attorney General that is willing to work closely with the Commission, and the need for the different branches of the Guatemalan government to work together to prevent corruption and strengthen democratic institutions.

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy on
The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala
Senate Floor
June 23, 2010

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, on June 7, the head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN-supported body set up to investigate organized crime and clandestine groups in Guatemala, resigned. In a press conference, he highlighted problems with Guatemala's newly selected Attorney General, who he accused of trying to undermine the Commission's investigations. He also described a general lack of cooperation from the Guatemalan Government in CICIG's mission.

Not long ago, on April 5, I spoke in this chamber of Guatemala's need for an Attorney General with the integrity, experience, courage and determination to show that justice can be a reality for all the people of Guatemala regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or economic status. Unfortunately, President Colom's choice fell short on all counts.

This concerns me greatly. The Commission was created three years ago, at the request of the Guatemalan Government and with the approval of the legislature. It was intended to support Guatemala in investigating and dismantling powerful criminal networks deeply entrenched in state institutions and to help strengthen the capacity of the country's dysfunctional judicial system. Since its creation, CICIG has received substantial political and financial backing from the international community, including the United States. I have been a strong supporter of the Commission, and I was encouraged that the Guatemalan Government and the legislature had the political courage to back a serious effort to challenge the organized criminal structures that threaten Guatemala's fragile democracy.

Under the leadership of internationally respected Spanish jurist and prosecutor Carlos Castresana, the CICIG, with dedicated Guatemalan personnel from the Public Ministry, the police, and the support of the courts, has made significant, indeed historic, progress in combating organized crime and ending impunity. Its work has led to the successful investigation of high-profile cases, the arrest of dozens of government officials and ex-military officers, and the purge of thousands of police officers linked to illegal groups.

Having een that progress, I was saddened to learn of Director Castresana's resignation. I commend him, the Commission's staff, and the many Guatemalans who have supported the CICIG for their courage and resolve.

The CICIG is a ground-breaking effort and one of the few successful strategies in the fight against organized crime and rampant institutional corruption in Guatemala. Its efforts must continue. Both the UN and the Guatemalan Government need to act swiftly and decisively if the CICIG is to continue as a meaningful body. I urge U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to appoint a new CICIG Commissioner with demonstrated expertise in investigating and prosecuting organized criminal networks so the advances of the CICIG continue under new leadership. Equally important is the integrity and continuity of CICIG's professional staff.

In Guatemala, the government needs to address the problems that so frustrated Director Castresana. Fortunately, Guatemala's Constitutional Court annulled the selection of the Attorney General, who subsequently resigned. This is a positive step, but it needs to be followed up. Guatemala's next Attorney General should have a strong commitment to working closely with and supporting the efforts of the CICIG, as well as reform of the National Police, the establishment of a high impact court for cases of organized crime with heightened security for judges, witnesses and prosecutors, a maximum security jail, and other initiatives by the Guatemalan legislature that would facilitate the investigation and prosecution of organized crime.

It is not just the Attorney General, however. Implementation of many of the CICIG's recommendations has been repeatedly delayed. The entire Guatemalan Government – the executive, legislature and the courts – must act decisively to demonstrate that it can implement urgent anti-impunity reforms, strengthen and professionalize its law enforcement and judicial institutions, and prove that it can be a partner in the fight against organized crime. Reforming the National Police, which is widely perceived as corrupt, ineffective and unaccountable, and whose officers are under-paid, under-trained, and under-equipped, is a critical priority. I hope there is convincing progress in these areas soon.

The United States is providing assistance to bolster Guatemala's institutions, particularly through our Central America Regional Security Initiative. But as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations, I would find it difficult to justify investing further resources in Guatemala's judicial system unless its own government demonstrates a strong commitment to ending impunity and combating organized criminal networks and corruption, which must be rooted out from their entrenched positions within Guatemala's state institutions.

I urge the Guatemalan Government to show, at this critical moment, its firm commitment to the CICIG and to taking the steps necessary to end impunity and strengthen the rule of law so the United States can continue to partner with Guatemala to tackle its many challenges.