Article: Lessons From Guatemala’s Commission Against Impunity

“No more corruption.” Photo by Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters

by Matthew M. Taylor
Council on Foreign Relations

Guatemala has made notable gains in the fight against corruption and impunity in the last decade. President Otto Perez Molina resigned in 2015 and was tried and jailed on charges of corruption, alongside his vice president and several ministers. Several prominent criminal figures have been extradited to the United States, including another former president, Alfonso Portillo. Supreme Court justices and members of congress have been removed from office, drug lords jailed, and extortion rings dismantled. The overall impunity rate for homicides fell from 95 percent to 72 percent between 2006 and 2012.

Bodies such as CICIG can help combat deeply embedded criminal networks that threaten economic development, the rule of law, and the sustainability of fledgling democracies. But they are not a panacea, and their effectiveness will require a strategic approach that prioritizes the long-term development of home-grown capacity.

Central to these efforts is the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (known by its Spanish acronym, CICIG), an independent body with investigative and prosecutorial powers set up by the United Nations and Guatemala. Headed by an appointee of the UN secretary-general with funding and staff from several donor countries, it has slowly grown in power and capacity, cooperating successfully with local prosecutors in cases against high-level political figures, as well as in drafting important criminal justice reforms. In an environment marked by weak institutions and extensive impunity, CICIG has been an extraordinary governance innovation.

Read the comprehensive report at the Council on Foreign Relations website.

A new beginning!

Co-directors Dania and RobIt is with tremendous pleasure that we announce the inauguration of our organization, the Human Rights Defenders Project! Our passion and purpose is to serve and support human rights defenders in Guatemala. We hope that you will join us and help us to build this dream together.

¡Con gran placer anunciamos la inauguración de nuestra organización, The Human Rights Defenders Project! Nuestra pasión y propósito es servir y apoyar a defensoras y defensores de los derechos humanos de Guatemala. ¡Esperamos que ustedes se nos unan para construir este sueño juntos!

– Dania Rodríguez & Rob Mercatante –

Guatemala high court lifts immunity of presidential adviser

Finally, some positive news from Guatemala:

Guatemala’s Supreme Court on Wednesday granted a request by prosecutors to lift the immunity of Edgar Justino Ovalle, a lawmaker and adviser to President Jimmy Morales.

Ovalle has been linked to the kidnapping of multiple people in 1983 and 1984, when he was second in command of a military zone in Coban, north of Guatemala City. The victims were later killed and buried in clandestine graves on a military base. More than 500 human remains have been found in the area.

Aura Elena Farfan, president of the Association of Detained and Disappeared Family Members of Guatemala, praised Wednesday’s ruling.

“For us as relatives, it is encouraging,” said Farfan, who is a plaintiff in the case. “It gives us hope and strength and we hope due process is followed.”

Read the article: Guatemala high court lifts immunity of presidential adviser | News OK

Threats to Civil Society Around the World 

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission
Here is an invitation to join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a hearing on threats to civil society around the world:

Date: Tuesday, March 21, 2017 – 1:00pm

The hearing will be live-streamed via YouTube on the Commission website, https://humanrightscommission.house.gov/.

A healthy and functioning civil society is vital for human rights and democracy everywhere. Civil society organizations (CSOs) play a crucial role in realizing the rights protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  They educate individuals about their rights; document human rights abuses; monitor the behavior of governments, including police and security forces; and advocate for the rule of law. CSOs also contribute to development, provide disaster relief, and deliver humanitarian aid in war zones.

But in recent years, civil society has been under threat. The legal “space” in which civil society is permitted to operate is being systematically “closed.”  More and more countries are passing restrictive laws that hamper civil society organizations by limiting or even criminalizing the receipt of foreign funding, imposing onerous administrative requirements, or defaming CSOs as terrorists or foreign agents.  Even worse, advocates for human rights and political reform face torture, disappearance, and assassination. These repressive policies are no longer confined to authoritarian states or countries in transition, but are occurring in established democracies, including in close U.S. allies like India, Egypt, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic.

Presenters:

  • Maina Kiai, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of  peaceful assembly and of association
  • Vanessa Tucker, Vice President for Analysis, Freedom House
  • Margaret Huang, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA
  • Douglas Rutzen, President & CEO, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law
  • Maria Stephan, Senior Policy Fellow, United States Institute of Peace

Source: Threats to Civil Society Around the World