UN Chastises Guatemala on Militarization of Security

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The United Nations has criticized Guatemala’s increasingly militarized approach to combating insecurity, a rebuke that could easily be applied to other countries in Central America’s Northern Triangle region.

The military has taken on a larger role in citizen security in Guatemala, but “this has not resulted in visible improvements,” according to the UN Human Rights Council’s annual report on Guatemala (pdf), released in January 2015.

“The persistent insecurity in the country is worrying,” UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Flavia Pansieri, stated on March 25 while presenting the report, according to EFE. “It is unfortunate that the government’s response has been focused until now on the militarization of public security.”

The report noted how attempted homicides have increased in two areas of Guatemala City by 38 percent and 5 percent, respectively, despite the deployment of joint military and police task forces to these areas in 2012. Prior to the deployments, murder attempts in these zones were on the decline. 

The report also stated the use of army squads for public security has expanded from just two to 12 out of Guatemala’s 22 departments over the past two years. 

InSight Crime Analysis

President Otto Perez increased the role of the armed forces in fighting crime soon after assuming office in 2012. Two years later, the national homicide rate increased for the first time since 2009, feeding concerns that this military deployment could have contributed to the uptick in violence. While homicides subsequently dropped nine points in 2014, the UN report suggests that it is unlikely that Guatemala’s use of the military contributed to this. 

Guatemala has also expanded the military’s role in fighting organized crime by installing three military bases in major drug trafficking border zones. The government also replaced police with a specialized military brigade in San Marcos province, the country’s most prolific poppy-growing region. 

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

The other Northern Triangle nations — Honduras and El Salvador — have also relied on a militarized, aggressive approach to combating organized crime. Since taking office in January 2014, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez has increased the number of troops in the country’s military police force, and attempted to enshrine the unit into the constitution, despite concerns these measures could lead to greater human rights violations. In El Salvador, security forces have responded to rising violence following the breakdown of the country’s 2012 gang truce with increasingly aggressive tactics

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