GUATEMALA CITY – A team of U.N. investigators has been established in Guatemala to help this violence-ridden country’s criminal justice system more effectively battle organized crime and impunity.
The U.N.-staffed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, approved by Guatemalan lawmakers in August at the request of President Oscar Berger, begins its work this month with the broad support of local civil society and the international community.
The U.N. undersecretary general for political affairs, Lynn Pascoe, said during the official launch of the commission that with this “innovative initiative” Guatemala begins an arduous battle “to investigate and dismantle the illegal networks that constitute the cornerstone of impunity.”
Guatemalans have little faith in their institutions, as poorly paid police and judicial authorities are believed to be controlled by criminal gangs wealthy from drug trafficking.
The commission, headed by Spanish prosecutor Carlos Castresana, will be made up of a team of close to 200 criminal justice professionals – half Guatemalan and half foreign – and will operate for two years, after which time it could be extended for another 24-month period.
Castresana said he has “some general ideas” about the first cases the commission could take up, but no definitive decisions have been made on the “multiple requests” from different sectors.
The prosecutor said the investigators and lawyers will seek to prosecute those who have enjoyed impunity for past crimes, but that the CICIG’s main concern is for “those who could be future victims” of these criminal organizations.
“Guatemala today is a place very unfavorable for (the administering of) justice, where it is urgent that the law be applied equally for all people, whether for government employees or private citizens” to stamp out impunity, Castresana said.
The mission’s mandate establishes that the commission – in addition to investigating “completely independently of the government” and any other Guatemalan entity the organized criminal groups that have infiltrated state structures – also can act as plaintiff before local courts to help ensure that those responsible for criminal acts are convicted.
It also enables the commission to provide technical and forensic training to prosecutors at the federal Attorney General’s Office and National Civil Police officers.
The CICIG will have a $30 million budget for the first two years, financed by the international community.