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Kosovo and Guatemala continued to suffer from corruption and organised crime after civil wars in which paramilitary forces trafficked lucrative contraband and committed mass atrocities with impunity. After contemporaneous but unrelated negotiations, international organisations agreed with both governments to promote peace and accountability through targeted interventions.

The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, or CICIG) were unique, peer-based international missions. In both, foreign and local personnel collaborated within the domestic legal system to investigate and prosecute corruption and organised crime, and to promote the rule of law. These joint efforts intended to support peer-based learning between international experts and local partners, and foster long-term progress. EULEX and CICIG were essentially the 'Mary Poppins' of international justice missions: forceful and impeccable outside experts tasked to bring order with a light touch, firm hand, and instructive voice – and then fly home once their hosts could capably take care of their own affairs.

EULEX became operational in late 2008. The most expansive and expensive mission in EU history to date, it served as a test case and showcase for the union. EULEX could take direct responsibility for legal cases and even over-rule or reverse decisions by local courts or authorities. But scholars, policy researchers, and former EULEX personnel themselves complained of little progress against corruption and organised crime, despite heavy investment and headway in other sectors. By the time the mission discontinued legal work in 2018, polls showed only a quarter of Kosovans supported EULEX, and that Kosovans gave lower approval ratings to EULEX than to their justice system, despite sky-high support for EU membership.

CICIG began in late 2006. Originally given EULEX-like powers, it was ultimately constituted fully under Guatemalan law to collect evidence and serve as a complementary prosecutor, but not bring its own cases. Polls revealed that CICIG became the most highly regarded institution in Guatemala, with public trust at 70%. CICIG helped strengthen domestic institutions, implement essential legal reforms, and secure high-profile convictions. However, it also faced staunch political opposition and the Guatemalan government will likely let its mandate expire in September 2019.

Neither EULEX nor CICIG magically swept up corruption or transformed their host countries, but they both hold lessons for the design and implementation of peer-to-peer international justice missions. Differences in operating conditions, institutional design, and strategic decisions contributed to their divergent outcomes.

Mandate, powers, and controls

EULEX’s dual missions of support and execution proved hard to reconcile in practice. Because EULEX could prosecute and even adjudicate its own cases, local partners often felt sidelined. Their focus on bringing and resolving cases and juggling broad objectives distracted from long-term peer-based learning. As an EU body, EULEX faced bureaucratic challenges that slowed down procurement and recruitment and gave them inadequate internal controls.

CICIG was an independent body with its own administrative rules, flexibility over human resources and internal controls, and operational autonomy. CICIG’s foreign personnel lacked independent executive power, so had to cooperate tightly with local counterparts.

Ease of international coordination

EULEX’s diverse, seconded staff faced obstacles to collaboration. Few spoke Kosovo’s official languages of Albanian and Serbian. Inexperienced and under-trained staff, exacerbated by high turnover and recruitment challenges, often served short terms, which disincentivised them to work towards relationship-building and longer-term cooperation.

CICIG’s legal experts and local counterparts worked within a shared language and legal tradition, which facilitated CICIG personnel to collect evidence, collaborate on investigations, navigate political challenges, and win public trust.

Political incentives and influences

While EULEX leaders denied making legal decisions for political reasons, they felt pressure to avoid political blowback and advance broader EU objectives like enlargement, regional stability, and human rights. CICIG’s investigative targets used smear campaigns, sophisticated social media manipulations, and even intimidation, but they had less international leverage. CICIG had a light footprint and could upend local institutions and politics without destabilising the region.

Strategic priorities

EULEX was more process-oriented, aimed at meeting benchmarks towards the broad and indefinite project of state-building, while CICIG was more goal-oriented in pursuing clandestine networks. CICIG leaders decided to prioritise the reforms most necessary to take on corruption. EULEX took a methodical approach, pushing legal and institutional reforms that provided Kosovo with laws and institutions that functioned better on paper than in practice.

Inter-agency coordination

CICIG supported the creation of a specialised office under the attorney general to facilitate close cooperation. As the bureau demonstrated viability, CICIG shifted strategically to transfer skills through joint investigations rather than training. In Kosovo, foreign-led prosecutions and adjudications became a first resort as a matter of expediency. EULEX judges, serving for short terms and burdened by heavy caseloads, had little incentive to build trust and transfer knowledge.

Winning public trust

CICIG emphasised cooperation with civil society and local institutions as well as the business community. EULEX had a rockier relationship with local institutions, handicapped by its official position of neutrality towards Kosovan statehood, as well as a perceived lack of transparency. EULEX erred by setting high expectations and falling short, while CICIG gained public trust by achieving high-profile results.

Lessons learned

Neither CICIG nor EULEX may have magically cleaned up systemic corruption and organised crime, but they demonstrated, to quote Mary Poppins, that ‘Well begun is half done.’ Through targeted mandates and structurally encouraged collaboration, future endeavours might learn from the strategic adaptations of both efforts:

  1. The evolutionary path of both missions holds substantial lessons for the design and implementation of peer-to-peer international interventions to promote the rule of law.
  2. Interventions are best narrowly targeted at a specific issue or obstacle, with a mandate and powers tailored to their purpose.
  3. Peer-to-peer learning works best with common ground. International personnel should be chosen for their relevant expertise and cultural connection, and allowed to form personal relationships with specially assigned local counterparts.
  4. Learning requires direct experience with feedback and support. Interventions should be structured so that local counterparts take the lead, reinforced by foreign resources, expertise, and structural independence.
  5. Local partnerships with civil society, media, and supportive domestic power holders are key to defending against pushback from reform antagonists.
  6. Strong transparency measures, internal controls, and ethical standards can guard against scandals that destroy public trust and distract from mission objectives.