(New York) – The decision by the government of President Jimmy Morales to expel investigators with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala is a major blow to efforts to bring corrupt officials to justice, Human Rights Watch said today.

Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales attends the Latin America and Caribbean International Economic Forum at the Bercy Finance Ministry in Paris

© 2017 Charles Platiau/Reuters

On December 18, 2018, the government announced that it was withdrawing the diplomatic credentials of 11 non-Guatemalan investigators with the commission, known by its initials in Spanish as CICIG. The 11 are responsible for cases involving the president and other powerful people accused of corruption. The government has given them until December 21 to leave the country.

“President Morales has moved from trying to get rid of Commissioner Velasquez to trying to get rid of his staff,” said Daniel Wilkinson, Americas managing director at Human Rights Watch. “Anyone who previously bought the fiction that his only problem was with the commissioner should now understand clearly that this president will do whatever it takes to derail the fight for justice in Guatemala.”

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.

In September, Morales announced that he would not allow the CICIG commissioner, Iván Velásquez, who was on a working trip abroad, to re-enter the country. The Constitutional Court ruled that Velásquez should be allowed to return, but he has not been allowed to do so and has been leading the commission from abroad.

Among the cases handled by the 11 targeted officials are an investigation into alleged illicit contributions to Morales’ electoral campaign and the prosecution of Morales’ brother and son on fraud charges. Another is the prosecution of former President Otto Pérez Molina for alleged corruption in the customs authority.

CICIG and leaders of nongovernmental groups in Guatemala have filed legal challenges to block the expulsion of the officials.