Why is it Important to Fight Against Impunity in Guatemala, El Salvador, Venezuela and Mexico

by    /  November 22, 2011  / 1 Comment

On November 23 IFEX inaugurates the International Day to End Impunity. The purpose of the day, also promoted in Facebook, is to raise public awareness of impunity and showcase the important work organizations have been doing to fight for justice and freedom of expression worldwide.

In our pages Sampsonia Way has covered many countries where freedom of speech has been attacked, in many cases without legal punishment. Because we understand that impunity is an obstacle for freedom of speech and democracy everywhere, Sampsonia Way contacted writers who have worked with us to write about the importance of fighting impunity in their home countries. Today we reproduce their comments on Latin America.

The human rights organization Equipo Nikzor explains: “Perhaps no word defines the experiences of Latin America as well as impunity…it is, without doubt, one of the gravest problems affecting the continent.” The following comments from writers and journalists from Guatemala, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Mexico explain the impact impunity has had on their societies and their country’s history; their comments also illustrate the importance of fighting impunity—widely considered an underlying cause of violence in Latin America.

Claudia Méndez Arriaza. Journalist, editor for el Periodico. Guatemala

It is important to fight against impunity in Guatemala and elsewhere: From China to France and from Europe to America. I could write a long list of reasons, but once I went to a conference where judges and prosecutors from Guatemala were discussing the topic. One of them, in my opinion, explained with a simple sentence the importance of breaking down the walls of impunity from the past, present, and future. He reminded us that when a crime happens and it is not punished, then it never happened. It’s as simple as that: It never happened. You’re not only playing with justice, you’re playing with the truth.

Think about the thousands of offenses that take place every day in the world. Think about child abuse, murder, fraud, scams, rapes, robberies … Now try to picture the victim’s faces. I have seen those faces. The first fight to overcome in their long road to justice is to make people believe. I always have wondered why, as I was interviewing them, covering their cases in the courts, they would remark: “This is the truth, this really happened to me.”

When they become victims of an offense, not only are courage, honor, dignity, trust, friendship, and love taken away, but the truth is also stolen. The victims seek it when they seek justice. Impunity is not only a denial of justice—it’s a denial of the truth. If a crime is not punished, then it never happened. And what is the consequence if a robbery never happened, if the taking of a life is not acknowledged, if an abuse never occurred? We can not pretend that it won´t happen again. We can argue about the effectiveness of punishment on deterrence, but when we talk about justice we have to bear in mind that the focus is not only on the offender and the offense but on the victim as well.

Impunity is another crime: It is an act of denial. Impunity denies that a terrible act happened, it denies that someone is suffering, it denies that an offender needs attention, and above all, it denies the fact that societies need truth and justice to live in peace.

Horacio Castellanos Moya.Writer and journalist. El Salvador

Impunity is the reflection of a judiciary system that does not work. Impunity is the expression of a society that is not under the rule of law. Most of the time, impunity exits in societies that suffer, or have suffered, dictatorships or long authoritarian or totalitarian regimes. El Salvador experienced a military regime for fifty years and then ten years of civil war. We are talking about sixty years of arbitrariness, killings, and massacres. During this period, military rulers and their rich elite supporters were above the law. They never had to face punishment for the human rights violations they perpetrated.

That pattern creates a culture, a culture of impunity. The idea is very simple: You can kill, you can break the law, and you won’t have to pay anything, because if the powerful can kill and break the law without paying anything, why are you going to be charged? El Salvador now lives in a democracy, but the culture of impunity is older and more powerful.

Israel Centeno. Writer. Venezuela

It is important to fight impunity in any place. An unpunished crime shows a clear absence of justice. We, as Venezuelans, have a long history of impunity, and while the judicial system does nothing, recidivism grows shameless and exponentially. Crime, in its different forms, seems to dominate over everyday events.

The prevalence of corruption, the trafficking of people, weapons and drugs, and other felonies, are reflected in the number of dead and injured reported at the end of every week. This situation is turning Venezuela into one of the most violent countries in the hemisphere, if not of the world. The consequence is serious. Citizens get used to the crime and end up trivializing violence, even displaying some kind of male chauvinist and picturesque “pride” as a result of being part of that chaotic reality.

The fight against impunity is also a fight against other evils. It is a fight against national cynicism, political, financial, and racial exclusion, and the inequality inside a country where—in spite of its oil reserves and social revolution—the financial elite produces and leads the crime in its different aspects. To fight against impunity is to struggle against the figure of the perennial Latin American leader; it is the process of looking inside institutions for independent judges that can apply free justice with a free criterion, and ultimately it is an attack against the causes of poverty and corruption.

Martin Solares. Writer. Mexico

In Mexico the word “justice” is used with less frequency: No one remembers the last time that the Mexican President, a prosecutor, or even a judge promised complete and total justice in a single case.

Words that we use or we stop using are not meaningless objects, they are powerful symbols that explain who we are and what we are becoming. It’s crucial to recover justice in Mexico, otherwise the extortions, the kidnappings and all the abuses will spread to other cities around the world: The organized crime that dominated Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, and Chihuahua is extending to Veracruz, Nuevo León, Texas, California, and Arizona…

The problem is that is impossible to do justice in Mexico if it is not done in tangent with the United States: It’s not enough to punish the murders here, it’s important to punish the arms dealers in the United States as well as the corrupt custom agents and the congressmen who protect the arms sales without considering the consequences. Those who argue in favor of the right to trade guns have forgotten a more powerful right: Every citizen has the right to live without fear, threats, extortion, robberies, and kidnappings.

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