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Press Conference on International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

20 April 2010

After two-and-a-half years, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala had achieved some successes in the fight, its Commissioner, Carlos Castresana Fernández, told correspondents today at Headquarters.

Thanks to the Commission’s work, some 2,000 police officers, or 15 per cent of the force, had been dismissed on corruption charges through administrative procedures, he said at a press conference. Because of lack of cooperation, one Attorney General, 10 Prosecutors and three Supreme Court Justices had been dismissed. As a result of criminal procedures, 130 people had been jailed, including a former President as well as former Ministers of Defence, Finance and Interior. That result had only been possible through the cooperation with the Commission of reliable police officers and prosecutors and with the support of some 90 per cent of the population and civil society and the private sector.

He said that the country had reached a turning point now, where the rule of law was improving. The United Nations had given a hand to the Guatemalan people and its institutions, which were threatened by transnational criminal groups. In the 1980s, the human rights violators were the States in the region, and citizens had to be protected from the State. Today, however, the main abusers were non-State actors. The challenge, for which Guatemala had sought international support, was to build institutions strong enough to protect its citizens and to provide for their real enjoyment of human rights.

As international donors had asked what the Commission was doing to reach out to the citizens, he said he had brought with him to New York representatives from the Guatemalan society to explain the impact of the Commission’s work. He then introduced Rigoberta Menchú, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; Eduardo Stein, former Vice-President of Guatemala; and Gonzalo Marroquín, Director, Prensa Libre, and Vice-President, Inter-American Press Association.

Ms. Menchú said the Commission had been a joint endeavour of civil society, human rights organizations and State institutions. Its establishment had been a successful decision, as now, for the first time in Guatemala, organized crime, drug trafficking and corruption could be prosecuted. The country was still living with the aftermath of 36 years of civil strife, and implementation of the peace agreement was only possible if impunity could be fought. As that struggle continued, involvement of the international community was necessary.

Mr. Stein stressed that the establishment of the Commission had been requested by Guatemala as a Member State of the United Nations. It had not been imposed from abroad, but was the legitimate aspiration of the people to get outside help in order to improve the quality of the justice system. Institutional weakness had been an “inheritance” of the conflict. As the end of the Commission’s mandate was drawing near, it was up to the Guatemalans to modify laws, adopt new ones and, indeed, change the Constitution, as the current one included too many limitations to fight impunity with enough “agility”. There were also regional implications as no regional tools were available to confront the international criminal networks.

Mr. Marroquín said that, as a journalist, he had to conclude that impunity ruled in his country. The military dictatorships since 1960 had created military impunity. With the arrival of democracy in 1986, impunity for organized crime and corruption had become a culture. Last year had seen some 6,000 assassinations, but fewer than 600 charged were being prosecuted. The United Nations had contributed to keeping alive the dream of democracy that worked for the population. Now that the Commission’s mandate was coming to a close, the outstanding tasks needed to be accomplished by Guatemalans.

Asked whether a mandate extension was desirable, Mr. Castresana said mandate negotiations were up to the State and the Secretary-General. The Commission was a partnership between Guatemala and the United Nations and its success or failure would be shared by the two. Asked how long the fight against impunity would take, he estimated that dismantling the illegal groups of the past war would take some 10 years, but that that task was one to be undertaken by Guatemalans. The mandate was not broad enough and should include organized crime and corruption issues.

Mr. Stein added that a mandate extension was desirable as the State institutions had to be strengthened. Discussion was ongoing as to whether the mandate should be changed. During its two years of existence, the Commission had achieved “staggering” results. Systemic efforts were necessary, however, not only pertaining to the justice system, but to support the “colossal fight” to prevent some institutions from being kidnapped by the “dark forces”. He also stressed the regional aspect, where structures for development had been established at a regional level, but where security issues were always “jealously guarded” by the military and police, and criminal organizations could hide in “national enclaves”. Transnational justice, therefore, was also necessary.

Ms. Menchú stressed the need to build on the progress made. The children of the time of conflict were the young people of today who had grown up seeing the violence and atrocities. If no alternative could be offered, it would be impossible to dismantle today’s mafias. The role of the international community was fundamental. She noted that the United Nations concept of the Commission had been used for the first time in Guatemala, but that other countries could benefit from its experience.

Responding to a question about support for the body from political parties and institutions, the participants in the press conference said the support was not sufficient. While urgent action in the legislative area was needed, some tried to delay progress. The people perceived the political parties as too far removed from them to take their concerns to heart. However, as noted by Mr. Castresana, some officials risked their lives in order to help the Commission.

Answering a question about the Spanish Judge Balthazar Garzón, Ms. Menchú said that genocide and crimes against humanity were not recognized in Guatemala, but had been proven in some 30,000 pages of documents that were now in the possession of Spain’s Audiencia Nacional. The Audiencia Nacional was a guarantee that the information on the investigations carried out by the United Nations, Guatemalan institutions and testimonies of the victims were safe and that the genocide in her country would never be forgotten. One day, the crimes would be judged in Guatemala. She was concerned that a new Spanish law would limit the jurisdiction over genocide and crimes against humanity to Spanish victims and those living in Spain and expressed solidarity with Judge Garzón, who was now being persecuted as he had dared to open up the question of Spain’s Civil War.

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For information media • not an official record

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