Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over Measures That May Hamper the Fight against Impunity and Corruption in Guatemala

January 10, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed its concern over measures taken by the government of Guatemala that cast doubt on its willingness to fulfill its international commitments in the fight against impunity and corruption in the country.

In the last two years, the highest levels of the government of Guatemala have acted in several ways to undermine the ability of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to fight corruption and impunity. The government of Guatemala recently terminated the CICIG’s mandate, which was due to end on September 3, 2019.

According to publicly available information, the government has relentlessly acted to weaken and discredit the CICIG and prevent it from fulfilling its mandate since 2017, when the office of the president first declared the commissioner in charge of the CICIG persona non grata and ordered him to leave the country. The Constitutional Court granted a permanent injunction in favor of the CICIG commissioner on that occasion, which overruled the office of the president’s decision. At the time, the IACHR urged Guatemala to allow the head of CICIG to continue his work and to provide all the necessary guarantees to enable him to do so.

Subsequently, in September 2018, the IACHR expressed its concern over the government’s decision not to renew the CICIG’s contract. On December 18, 2018, the government revoked the courtesy visas of 11 CICIG officials and their families, and the Constitutional Court issued a provisional injunction suspending this decision. However, in January 2019, CICIG researcher Yilen Osorio was held for 23 hours by immigration authorities at Guatemala’s international airport, La Aurora, as he attempted to enter the country. Mr. Osorio was eventually allowed into the country after the Constitutional Court intervened in the matter, with the support of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The IACHR calls on the state to guarantee the integrity and security of CICIG members, particularly in the current polarized environment.

As is public knowledge, the CICIG’s work has also been affected by other decisions of the office of the president that seek to limit its staff’s capacity. In March 2018, 11 agents from the Department of Civilian Intelligence who were assigned to the CICIG were removed from their posts. In June 2018, the National Civilian Police Force (PNC) refused a request to assign the CICIG 26 new police officers, and in July 2018, the PNC ordered 20 of the 45 officers on CICIG security detail to rejoin their division.

The fight against corruption is inextricably linked to the exercise and enjoyment of human rights. Impunity causes and perpetuates acts of corruption. As a consequence, establishing effective mechanisms to eradicate impunity is essential to achieving effective access to independent, impartial justice and guaranteeing human rights.

With this in mind, the IACHR has publicly and repeatedly recognized the transcendental, complementary nature of the role that the CICIG plays in the fight against corruption in Guatemala by working alongside the Public Prosecutor’s Office to break down criminal networks and tackle organized crime. It also provides support for training programs and promotes legal reforms that seek to make justice more effective, as is set out in its mandate. Over time, its investigations have revealed the alleged involvement of officials from all three branches of government and other players in illegal acts of corruption, some of which are being prosecuted.

The government’s constant actions to undermine the CICIG’s operations are incompatible with states’ obligations to fight corruption and impunity, as established in their international commitments, and thus threaten the essence of the rule of law. “We wish to express our concern for these actions on the part of the Guatemalan government, as they do not comply with its international human rights obligations, particularly the fight against corruption and impunity,” said the rapporteur for Guatemala, Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño. “We wish to once more remind Guatemala of its obligation to fight corruption, in line with its international commitments,” she added.

The Commission is concerned by the fact that on December 26, 2018 the Solicitor General filed an appeal against three judges of the Constitutional Court to remove their immunity and proceed to criminally denounce them for considering certain resolutions, without specifying which, as "arbitrary and illegal" and that "transgress the Guatemalan legal system, affecting the country's institutions and putting at risk the rule of law." Likewise, it notes that on January 9, 2019, the Supreme Court of Justice approved preliminary proceedings to waive immunity, which in the following will go to Congress.

The IACHR calls for the different branches of the country’s government to be made independent from one another and stresses the importance of complying with decisions of the Constitutional Court to ensure that the rule of law is fully in force. The independence of the judiciary is a fundamental feature of the separation of powers and is essential to guaranteeing the democratic rule of law. The IACHR is also concerned about the offensive speeches made by various individuals at a time when the atmosphere in the country is extremely polarized, particularly the speeches made by state agents speaking out against the Constitutional Court’s rulings on this matter. The IACHR calls on the state to protect the life and integrity of its members.

Finally, the IACHR wishes to express its support for all the democratic sectors of Guatemalan society in their efforts to fight impunity and corruption and defend democracy and the rule of law. The IACHR will continue to monitor the fight against corruption in Guatemala and its effects on human rights.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 007/19