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News, 5/21/2012

Francisco Dall’Anese: Guatemala needs to change impunity

“A change is possible in Guatemala only if the Guatemalan themselves want it,” says Head of International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala Francisco Dall’Anese.

The Guatemalan don´t trust the police, who lack adequate criminal investigation resources to produce applicable evidence for criminal prosecution. Photograph: Flickr/rguerra, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0The Guatemalan don't trust the police, who lack adequate criminal investigation resources to produce applicable evidence for criminal prosecution. Photograph: Flickr/rguerra, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Finland has allocated aid to the UN Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG, Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala) within regional development cooperation in the Central America since 2007.

Head of CICIG, Under-Secretary-General of the UN Francisco Dall’Anese of Costa Rica is a highly regarded judge and former Attorney General in his country. Dall’Anese will visit Finland on 21-22 May.

New model of operations

According to Dall’Anese, CICIG is an innovative and new model of operations that provides an international prosecutor to support the local judicial administration.

Francisco Dall´Anese together with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during his visit to Guatemala. Photograph: UN PhotoFrancisco Dall'Anese together with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during his visit to Guatemala. Photograph: UN Photo

CICIG helps secure basic human rights by helping the Guatemalan authorities in investigating and prosecuting illegal and clandestine organised criminal groups.

Nevertheless, CICIG is not a template that can be implemented as such in other post-civil-war countries, Dall’Anese stresses. Still, other countries suffering from high crime rates and weak democracy have expressed their interest in trying the Guatemalan model.

Weak judicial system impedes building of trust

“There's a great distrust toward judicial authorities in Guatemala. If trust in the local judicial institutions and authorities existed, we wouldn't have needed to ask the UN for help. A well-functioning judicial system is like a well-greased machine,” Dall’Anese says.

“The national police agency cannot offer much in terms of salary, career development and pension. It's not the preferred option for someone graduating. As a result, people who cannot find anything else end up as police officers,” he explains.

“Secondly, the police agency lacks criminal investigation capacity that could produce evidence for criminal prosecution. Many regional prosecutors are not graduated lawyers, and the President can discharge the Prosecutor-General for alleged poor performance. There will always be a reason, if they want him out,” Dall’Anese says.

“As far as judges are concerned, many have clearly endangered their lives by sentencing dangerous criminal groups, but it is also clear that some judges are not acting in favour of interests that promote justice,” Dall’Anese says as he describes structural reasons for the high impunity rates in the country.

In Guatemala, only about three percent of litigations end in passing a sentence.

Judges are prone to external influence

One of the greatest defects listed by Dall’Anese has to do with the dependence of the judicial system and judicial authorities on political decision-makers. The position of judges is particularly bad. Judges are assigned for five years at a time, the salary is low and the pension only a fraction of the pay. The government cannot guarantee security for judges, and building a career is not an option because judges are not assigned for life as in more advanced states ruled by law.

Judges are prone to external influence especially when a politician is charged. Corruption is common too.

CICIG is advocating an amendment to the constitution that would improve the position of judges and, consequently, legal protection of citizens.

The Commission's main task is to support the Special Prosecutors Office against impunity. Other supported agencies include Special Prosecutors Offices against trafficking in human beings, organised crime and money laundering and the prosecutor’s office for human rights.

Other reforms relate to improving witness protection, supporting international activities of the prosecuting agency, and updating criminal investigation methods and training of criminal investigators.

“500 years of impunity”

“We cannot control the final results of the Commission by ourselves; they depend on the will of the Guatemalan and their commitment to the change,” Dall’Anese points out. According to him, everybody at least say they support the reforms.

In the heart of the local culture there's a certain kind of inertia – everything is left the way it has always been. Encouraging change in this kind of climate is not an easy task, Dall’Anese says.

CICIG's mandate will end in September 2013, after which several UN subsidiary bodies will take over follow-up of the Commission's initiatives.

“After 500 years of impunity, a mandate of few years is clearly short for implementing changes," Dall’Anese points out.

An air of positive change

“However, there is an air of positive change already. The Guatemalan are slowly beginning to appreciate their judicial bodies and trust in realization of justice. It is important to create transparent institutional processes for selecting judicial authorities. It will build trust in the judicial system and help establish permanent changes.”

“CICIG is a daughter of three fathers – or mothers: the UN Secretariat, Guatemala and the countries who finance and implement the activities. It's important that both the achievements and the remaining challenges are reported to them,” he says.

Dall'Anese was interviewed by Consultant in International Development Cooperation Outi Karppinen, a resident of Guatemala.

This document

Updated 5/23/2012

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