Guatemala: President Sabotages Fight for Justice

(HRW) – President Jimmy Morales’s decision to end the mandate of a UN-backed investigative body is a major blow to efforts to fight corruption, abuse, and impunity in Guatemala, Human Rights Watch said today.

On August 31, 2018, Morales announced that he would not request an extension of the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which expires in September 2019. CICIG is investigating allegations that Morales’s presidential campaign received illegal funding and is participating in the prosecution of his son and brother on fraud charges. Morales made the announcement flanked by dozens of top military officials, shortly after 12 military jeeps were stationed in front of the CICIG’s office in Guatemala City.

“President Morales has been working for more than year to shield himself and his family from justice,” said Daniel Wilkinson, Americas managing director at Human Rights Watch. “He is now pulling the plug on the UN-sponsored commission responsible for the investigations.”

Since CICIG began investigating Morales for possible corruption, the president has waged a relentless campaign to undermine its work, Human Rights Watch said.

In August 2017, Morales ordered the expulsion of CICIG Commissioner Iván Velásquez, days after CICIG and the Guatemalan attorney general announced they were investigating Morales for illicit campaign financing. Guatemala’s Constitutional Court blocked the expulsion. On August 10, 2018, CICIG and the attorney general presented a request to Congress to strip Morales of his immunity from prosecution.

CICIG is one of the most effective anti-corruption mechanisms in Latin America today, Human Rights Watch said. Since it began operation in 2007, Guatemala has made unprecedented progress in promoting justice for corruption and abuse of power. It has obtained the indictments of four former presidents, and of more than a dozen former ministers and even more ex-congressmen on corruption charges. CICIG’s investigations have also led to the conviction of at least 58 people involved in six different drug cases.

In an August 31 letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Morales wrote that CICIG should focus its remaining time on transferring “technical skills” to local institutions. Given CICIG’s extensive caseload and chronic delays in the Guatemalan courts, it is extremely unlikely this and other major cases will be resolved within a year.

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“If anyone still had any doubts about which side Morales was on, today he made it crystal clear he’s cast his lot with the forces of corruption and impunity,” Wilkinson said. “When the commission is gone, the vital but precarious progress Guatemala has made in strengthening the rule of law will stall and very likely start to unravel.”

Originally published by Human Rights Watch