Wednesday, February 25, 2009

As UN Pitches Wiretaps in Guatemala, Bus Murders Unsolved, Bhutto Panel Not Filled Yet

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, February 24 -- A UN-sponsored prosecutor in Guatemala is advocating legalizing and expanding wiretapping in that country, it emerged on Tuesday. The head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, Spanish prosecutor Carlos Castresana, told the Press that he has assembled a team from Chile, Uruguay and Colombia and is going after the drug gangs known as marras 

   Inner City Press asked about a statement by Castresana that he will expose the role of journalists in criminal conspiraciesin Guatemala. It is undeniable that civil society is involved, Castresana answered. Asked to name other countries in which the UN might get so directly involved in judicial and investigative proceedings, Castresana told Inner City Press to "ask the Secretary-General."

   After the briefing, a Department of Political Affairs spokesman declined to comment on the idea of a similar transition from a UN political mission to a judicial follow-up in, for example, Nepal. The countries would have to come and ask for help, he said.  CICIG's funders include a slew of mostly Western European countries, the U.S and the Soros Foundation.

   Inner City Press asked whether Castresana has made any progress on one of the two cases he first accepted from the government, that of a spate of killings of bus drivers. Castresana said that these killings, numbering over 130 in 2008, began as extortion schemes against the bus companies. The threats were delivered by gang leaders by cell phones, but wiretapping was not possible. Video here, from 45:37.

An earlier stage in Guatemala with UN involvement, before wiretapping

  After the briefing, Castresana told Inner City Press that the problem was not any government resistance to wiretapping, but rather getting the phone companies to invest the funds necessary to allow systematic monitoring of communications.

 How closely related to the UN's mission is advocating an expansion of wiretapping?  A senior UN official told Inner City Press, on condition of anonymity, that there are increasing doubts about the wisdom of the UN's involvement in judicial processing. You can lose your focus, he said, citing the UN's role in establishing a tribunal for Hariri's assassins in Lebanon, and Ban Ki-moon's one-third complete naming of a panel on the Benazir Bhutto killing in Pakistan. 

  On the Pakistan panel, one name thrown around has been Peter Galbraith, who while a U.S. diplomat in the Balkans was, sources say, involved in evading arms embargoes in the region. The UN official told Inner City Press that while Galbraith, pushed for the post by Pakistan's government, may not be on the Bhutto panel, look for him to be named soon to another UN post. We'll see.

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