Guatemala Modernizes its Military Justice System
By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo March 01, 2017Five legal officers from the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies (DIILS) of the U.S. Department of Defense met with a team of officers from the Guatemalan National Ministry of Defense as part of the modernization of Guatemala’s military justice system. Their goal was to help with the creation of the position of Army Operational Law Advisor. During the meeting, held January 18th–20th in Guatemala City, the participants exchanged information and experiences on how their respective judicial bodies deal with these legal issues. The first working meeting between DIILS and the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense took place in August 2015. The next meeting will be held in April 2017. “The DIILS is cooperating by sharing their expertise. Thanks to the consulting and the knowledge they have given us in different legal areas, our work is easier. The exchange of experiences and legal knowledge is formidable,” Infantry Lieutenant Colonel Mario Arturo Chupina de León, head of the Management Department of the General Directorate of Legal Affairs of the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense told Diálogo. Military professionals from the two countries structured an Operational Law Advisor study plan to train the first 18 professional military officers in law. “The participation of these advisors is indispensable when it comes time to integrate military action and legal formalities; their observations can change all plans,” said Infantry Colonel (R) Juan José Recinos, legal advisor for the Movement for Justice and Reconciliation of Guatemala. “Currently, legal certainty is one of the main challenges facing the Guatemalan Army. Operational law gives military action legal certainty,” Lt. Col. Chupina said. “It is important to think of military action in any country as a state action.” According to Col. (R) Recinos, since Guatemala is facing different challenges than it has faced in its recent past, operational law advisors, who participate in every phase of an operation, should have a broad understanding of peace missions and emerging threats like drug trafficking, organized crime, terrorism, human smuggling, maras, and gangs. Introducing a process of restructuring into the Guatemalan Army has been a priority since the peace negotiations. The restructuring would include reforms to its constitutive law, changes in its doctrine and educational system, a decrease in the number of troops, military justice and amendments to existing legislation, according to the report on military reform in Guatmela “Sobre la reforma militar en Guatemala” issued by the Myrna Mack Foundation, an association that advocates for justice and human rights in Guatemala. Lt. Col. Chupina and Col. (R) Recinos agree that implementing new legal documents for the Guatemalan Army and modernizing current military justice instruments and disciplinary rules are the strategic cornerstone for the process to move forward in building democracy and strengthening the state. The cooperation between Guatemala and the United States is unceasing. In August 2013, DIILS traveled to Guatemala for a comparative workshop held in collaboration with the recently formed Guatemalan Interagency Task Force, which is mainly focused on border control, smuggling and the fight against drug trafficking. Topics covered included observance of, and respect for, human rights during military operations (including operations in support of civilian authorities), laws applicable to domestic and international armed conflicts, and the development and application of rules for the use of force. DIILS is located at the Naval Station in Newport, Rhode Island. Its legal education is focused on human rights, international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict. According to its website, it also helps partner nations improve their military justice systems. “The excellent cooperation between DIILS and the Guatemalan Army helps us establish a better understanding of each institution’s role and their mission. It also means an increase in the exchange of experiences and knowledge so we can reach our institutional goal of military justice,” Lt. Col. Chupina said. “The road is difficult. We military members are used to that; we are ready to reach that goal,” he concluded.