PART 7: THE CICIG IN BRIEF
OR, PROGRESSIVES AGAINST THE FOOLS’ BRIGADE
The government of Guatemala and the United Nations agreed in 2006 to create the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a “non-UN organ” that would strengthen the capacity of Guatemala to “fulfill its obligations under the human rights conventions to which it is a party.”
The CICIG’s stated objectives were to support, strengthen and assist Guatemala’s institutions “responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes allegedly committed in connection with the activities of illegal security forces and clandestine security organizations.” Illegal security groups were defined as those that “commit illegal acts in order to affect the full enjoyment and exercise of civil and political rights . . .”
Under the founding agreement, the CICIG would have full license to prosecute crimes alongside the justice ministry. At the same time, the CICIG commissioner and his subordinates would “enjoy the privileges and immunities [of] diplomatic agents in conformity with the 1961 Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations.”
The effect of these measures was to give the CICIG unlimited prosecutorial power, combined with full impunity.
Activist groups in Guatemala, so-called progressives, had been trying to create such a commission since the mid-1990’s, when peace negotiations brought a halt to the country’s 36-year-long internal armed conflict. In 2004 Guatemala’s highest judicial body, the Constitutional Court, was asked for an opinion on the idea and responded in the negative.
The court stated that the proposed body would not be a genuine human-rights instrument; further, that it would serve an illegal function if it prosecuted crimes – a task that properly belonged to the justice ministry alone.
Even so, a nearly identical proposal was approved in 2006 by that same court and its new crop of magistrates. On December 12, 2006, Guatemala and the United Nations signed the agreement creating the CICIG.
Pursuant to article 171.1 of the Constitution, President Oscar Berger submitted the agreement to Congress. The key committee voted against it, arguing that it violated the Constitution in several key respects.
But the sovereign wishes of a constitutional republic flew in the face of world opinion. Larger forces from outside were demanding that international law take precedence over sovereignty; they put heavy pressure on Guatemala’s leaders to approve the CICIG.
On August 1, 2007 Congress gave in and without debate ratified the agreement, calling it an urgent priority for the nation. The commission’s term was for two years, and subject to renewal.
In 2009 Guatemalan President Colom asked Congress to renew the CICIG, and Congress agreed. Since that time Congress has not voted on the CICIG’s renewal – yet the CICIG has stayed.
This lapse has been a blatant violation of the Constitution, which requires Congress to “approve, before its ratification, treaties, agreements or any international arrangement” when it affects laws in effect or financially obligates the State.
Congress acted correctly in 2009 when it approved the CICIG’s extension. But in 2011, to avoid a possible rejection, the relevant committee didn’t take up the issue. When it failed to vote on another extension, Congress acted incorrectly by shirking its responsibility to approve or disapprove international agreements entered into by the president.
The CICIG’s existence has been illegal under Guatemalan law since 2011. Yet today – by dint of brute fact instead of law – the CICIG is more entrenched than ever. It has become so by concentrating on the bare-knuckled accumulation of power, while relying on its diplomatic immunity.
The CICIG is no more a diplomatic mission than any other group of international adventurers. The CICIG reports to nobody – not even to its sponsor, the UN.
Guatemala’s justice ministry has been the CICIG’s base of operation. But the ministry and its staff are subject to national law, while the CICIG is subject to no law or oversight at all. That fact, which everyone in Guatemala’s government knows, has given the CICIG the majority of power in the ministry, and at times the major part of power in the country.
The CICIG uses the justice ministry as its mask. Behind the spectacular misuses of power in Guatemalan justice – the frequent use of false witnesses, illegal surveillances, and more – the CICIG is omnipresent. In at least one case, the CICIG compelled a defendant to carry a voice-recorder to a meeting with her own attorney. As a result, the attorney is now sitting in jail.
The CICIG is able to imprison and expropriate any Guatemalan it wishes. It has stood behind at least one murder, in which it avoided prosecution on grounds of diplomatic immunity.
In 2010 its machinations allowed President Colom to unseat a justice minister whom the president had wished to make a fall-guy. By 2015, the CICIG had upped its game to removing and imprisoning the president and vice president. That same year, it cooperated with President Obama’s ambassador in an effort to “postpone” a scheduled presidential election. Ever since then, it has been working to unseat the winner.
By now the CICIG embodies the very impunity it was set up to eliminate. And it functions very much like the “illegal security groups” that it had once pledged to eradicate.
You cannot be in Guatemalan politics without knowing the CICIG’s power. Today, the first requirement for holding an office – not only in the justice ministry or on the various courts, but anywhere in the executive branch – is that you have “excellent working relations” with the CICIG.
From its bunker in the justice ministry, the CICIG has placed many friends and displaced many adversaries in judgeships at every level. For now the CICIG commands a neat majority, 3-to-2, of the Constitutional Court. That control is nothing less than the ability to say what is law and what is not, as leaders from the president on down are well aware.
The CICIG knows it cannot survive without robust international support. Accordingly, it plays with great skill and care to the global progressive movement, as well as to those portions of Guatemala’s populace that naively believe its propaganda. Catch-phrases like “anti-corruption,” “human rights,” “indigenous rights,” and of course “anti-impunity” drop from the CICIG’s official statements like overripe fruit.
The uniform CICIG response to its opponents is that they are pro-impunity and pro-corruption. So far this tactic has worked amazingly well. It has worked with the US Department of State – even under President Trump, whose diplomats ought to know better.
The reality of the CICIG is this: if your organization is an official body wielding state power without limitations, without oversight, and without the possibility of punishment, your operation is going to grow undisciplined and sloppy at best; immoral and inhumane at worst.
According to legal analysts, the following methods of operation are present in many of the criminal processes filed and managed by the CICIG and its staff:
- They prosecute cases that provoke public scandal, while not filing cases against persons and groups politically aligned with them.
- They seek the most vulnerable people to serve as witnesses and bribe them. If subjects reject the bribe, the CICIG threatens and coerces them to testify falsely against their, the CICIG’s, targets.
- They obtain arrest warrants against their targets based solely on witness testimony, without supporting evidence.
- They create a media circus when they carry out arrests, involving an exaggerated number of police, vehicles, and weapons.
- They force arrestees to walk long distances on their way to court, illegally exposing them to the press and denigrating them.
- They present arrestees in handcuffs as if they were dangerous criminals, regardless of their age or physical disabilities.
- They convene press conferences before arraigning arrestees in which they present the charges as proven facts against which there can be no contrary evidence.
- Somehow, those charged by the CICIG are assigned mostly to judges who accept the CICIG’s petitions without objection. Those judges delay arraigning arrestees in violation of their rights, sometimes for several months.
- The CICIG and its staff deny the accused access to the evidence against them, and allow defense lawyers only minutes to review evidence before having to respond. They withhold evidence in some cases until after taking the accused’s statement, in violation of the law.
- When CICIG-friendly judges aren’t assigned to cases because they are too busy, other judges often rule against the CICIG which, whenever that happens, immediately recuses the judge. The CICIG then puts the recused on a list of corrupt judges. If an appeals court should confirm an anti-CICIG ruling, the CICIG seeks to remove and jail the ruling judge for crimes he or she didn’t commit.
- Defense lawyers in CICIG cases routinely denounce illegal detention, violations of the right to a defense, violations of due process, denial of the presumption of innocence, failure to adhere to time requirements for actions and, especially, illegal prolongation of their clients’ detention.
- Victims of CICIG persecution have publicly denounced the extraordinary cruelty of punishments designed to break their will and force them, against the truth, to admit guilt.
Up to now, the CICIG’s opponents have had an extremely hard time fighting against it; while fighting against the CICIG plus the United States, as at least one member of Guatemala’s Congress has learned, is a fool’s errand.
Congressman Fernando Linares wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, detailing the CICIG’s violations of diplomacy and law. He never received a reply. Due to his opposition in Congress to the CICIG and to US policy, he became a marked man. In April 2017, the US consulate peremptorily cancelled his right to travel to the US – an insult to someone of his standing. For more, see the account of his case in Part 9 of this series.
Even so, the CICIG’s tactics have been so blatant and unappealing that a fools’ brigade has started to form. It now includes the president of the republic.
The CICIG and its allies are appropriately concerned. As of this writing, the Constitutional Court has been asked to declare that the agreement with the UN establishing the CICIG should become part of the country’s permanent law – not subject to review by the people’s Congress.
There is no reason in that view; only desperation.
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