(New York) – Reported plans by President Jimmy Morales of Guatemala to seek the removal of the head of a United Nations-supported anti-corruption commission in his country would be a major blow to accountability there, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch has received credible reports that on August 25, 2017, Morales will meet with UN Secretary General António Guterres in New York to ask him to remove Ivan Velásquez as commissioner of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which works with Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office to investigate and co-prosecute cases involving organized crime. At a news conference on August 23, a presidential spokesperson confirmed the meeting with Guterres, but refused to confirm or deny reports that the president will request Velásquez’s removal.
“Seeking the commissioner’s removal would be a blatant betrayal by President Morales of his past commitment to support the anti-corruption agency,” said Daniel Wilkinson, managing director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch. “Given that his own son and brother are facing prosecution by the commission, it would also represent an egregious interference in the judicial process by the president.”
Since Velásquez’s appointment as commissioner in 2013, Guatemala has made unprecedented progress in tackling corruption and the abuse of power by government officials. Most notably, in 2015, joint investigations by the commission and the Attorney General’s Office exposed multiple corruption schemes, implicating officials in all three branches of government, and prompting the resignation of the country’s then president and vice president – who are now in jail awaiting trial.
Morales took office in January 2016 and in April of that year asked the UN to extend the commission’s mandate – which had been set to expire in 2017 – until September 2019. In September 2016, the commission and the Attorney General’s Office announced that they were investigating the president’s son, José Manuel Morales, and brother, Samuel Morales, for alleged fraud committed prior to his term. The two were arrested in January and are awaiting trial. The president’s political party is under investigation for alleged illicit financing during the 2015 presidential campaign.
Guatemala Attorney General Thelma Aldana published a statement on her Facebook page on August 22, stating that if Velásquez were expelled, she would resign. In the August 23 news conference, the president’s spokesperson characterized Aldana’s statement as “blackmail” and suggested that the attorney general had a “parallel plan to intervene in the government’s decisions.”
“The removal of Velásquez as commissioner would cause profound and irreparable harm to the credibility of the Guatemalan government and have devastating consequences for efforts to fight impunity in Guatemala,” Wilkinson said. “The UN secretary-general should reject any such request and reaffirm his support for the crucial work of Commissioner Velásquez.”