Guatemala Must Continue Its Commitment to Combat Corruption and Impunity

NEW YORK—Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales has violated his country’s agreement with the United Nations by preventing the head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Iván Velásquez, from reentering Guatemala. The Open Society Justice Initiative is urging the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, to act urgently to protect the mandate of CICIG, in light of Morales’ illegal action.

President Morales announced publicly on Friday that Guatemala would terminate CICIG’s mandate as of next year, and his confidential directive to keep the commission’s head out of the country has just come to light.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative said, “President Morales’ refusal to renew the CICIG agreement between the UN and Guatemala threatens the progress made over the last decade in strengthening the rule of law in Guatemala. President Morales—who is under investigation for corrupt acts and therefore has an obvious conflict of interest—issued a private order yesterday banning Iván Velásquez from the country. This action clearly breaches the agreement, and requires a robust response from the UN.”

The Justice Initiative is urging Mr. Guterres to send a personal representative to Guatemala City as soon as possible to challenge the breach. The joint agreement commenced in 2007 and was most recently renewed in 2016.

Speaking before an audience of military and civilian defense officials, President Morales announced last Friday that he was closing down CICIG as of next September and beginning the transfer of its powers to domestic agencies. Shortly before the announcement, military vehicles and masked soldiers with machine guns were deployed outside CICIG’s headquarters in Guatemala City.

On Monday, President Morales issued confidential orders to the Guatemalan migration authorities preventing Velásquez, who is currently visiting the United States, from reentering Guatemala, to “protect order and public security.”

Morales first moved against CICIG in August last year, after the commission began investigating illegal electoral donations to his political party, and unsuccessfully asked Congress to strip him of immunity from prosecution. Morales responded by seeking, also unsuccessfully, to expel Velásquez.

Velásquez, a Colombian appointed by the UN, heads a team of international and Guatemalan investigators who support Guatemala’s state prosecutors’ office. This joint work has exposed a series of massive corruption scandals, one of which led to the resignation, arrest, and trial of former president Oscar Péres Molina and his vice president Roxana Baldetti.

CICIG also contributed to the strengthening of the Guatemalan judiciary through the creation of so-called high risk courts. In addition to high level corruption and organized crime cases, these courts enabled a series of high profile prosecution of retired military leaders—including the late former military dictator Efrain Rios Montt, for atrocity crimes committed during Guatemala’s long civil conflict.