Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:August 11th, 2007 05:23 EST
Stopping Violence in Guatemala Aim of New International Body

Stopping Violence in Guatemala Aim of New International Body

By SOP newswire

Washington -- The global community is hailing the creation of a new international commission that will aid Guatemalan authorities in investigating and prosecuting illicit groups engaged in violence in the Central American nation.

The new commission’s work in curtailing violence in Guatemala is seen as boosting that nation’s human rights condition and the rule of law.

The Guatemalan Congress on August 1 approved creation of the body, called the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

James Derham, U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, told USINFO August 10 that the United States, along with other international donors, plans to contribute funds for CICIG and is in the process of determining funding sources to help get the commission operating as soon as possible.

Derham said that under an initial two-year mandate, the U.N.-led commission will investigate crimes committed by “criminal structures and clandestine security organizations that threaten civil and political rights and undermine the rule of law in Guatemala."  Derham added that the commission will assist Guatemalan government institutions in prosecuting the “clandestine groups, promoting justice and police reforms, and implementing institutional vetting [screening] processes."

CICIG will be an independent body with headquarters in Guatemala City, although its commissioner will be appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  The commissioner will report periodically to Ban.

Derham indicated that while the United Nations has supported both international and national “truth commissions" in Latin America and worldwide, this will be the first time that a U.N.-sponsored commission will support local authorities in their work to prosecute crime.  Truth commissions, such as one established in Guatemala in 1994, are used to clarify events that occur during a country’s internal conflict.  (See related article.)

As part of its mandate, CICIG will seek to strengthen Guatemalan government institutions, such as the public prosecutor’s office, police and judiciary, to dismantle clandestine groups.

Derham said that under the agreement creating CICIG, the Guatemalan government, in consultation with the United Nations, is committed to developing and submitting to the Guatemalan Congress a series of reforms necessary to ensure the proper functioning of the country’s criminal investigation and prosecution system and to bring the legal system into compliance with international human rights conventions.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said in an August 2 statement that the United States congratulated the Guatemalan Congress for approving the agreement establishing the commission.

Casey said the commission’s goals of helping Guatemalan authorities stop the violence of illicit groups is a “groundbreaking and promising initiative."  The United States, he added, “will continue to seek ways to support" CICIG.

Guatemala was ravaged by a 36-year civil war that ended in 1996.  More than 200,000 people were killed in the conflict.

The State Department said in a February “background note" on Guatemala that “common and violent crime, aggravated by a legacy of violence and vigilante justice, presents a serious challenge" in the country.  In addition, impunity from justice is a major problem, “primarily because democratic institutions, including those responsible for the administration of justice, have developed only a limited capacity to cope with this legacy," the department said.

The United Nations said August 1 the commission’s creation sends a “clear message" both to Guatemala’s people and to the international community that Guatemala is “committed to fight crime and impunity, and to provide security for its citizens."

The European Union also praised CICIG’s creation.  In an August 1 statement, that body said it is “truly confident" that the commission will help Guatemalan authorities strengthen the country’s rule of law and provide “instruments to offer citizens an environment of security and respect for human rights."

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS REACT

Nongovernmental human rights and humanitarian groups also issued statements touting CICIG’s mission.  New York-based Human Rights First said August 2 that some of the people responsible for committing the worst atrocities during Guatemala’s civil war later formed illegal security organizations, which “now rival" the power of the Guatemalan government.

London-based Amnesty International said CICIG could become a “valuable contributor in the fight against Guatemalan clandestine groups and the impunity they enjoy."

Amnesty International said it welcomed the international support the commission has received.

A nonpartisan Washington-based humanitarian group, the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, called CICIG’s formation a “landmark decision that will hopefully curtail the escalating violence that plagues" Guatemala.

The background note on Guatemala is on the State Department Web site.

The U.N. statement is available on the organization’s Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

By Eric Green
USINFO Staff Writer