Category Archives: Judicial System

Weak and Corrupt Justice Systems in Central America

Human Rights Watch recently released its World Report 2015. Insight Crime has a summary of the Latin American highlights, including some harsh words for Central America's justice systems.
Failing justice systems were particularly noted in the Central American nations of Guatemala and Honduras. Corrupt and ineffective courts have hindered the prosecution of powerful criminal organizations within both countries. In Honduras, corrupt courts are presided over by judges subject to intimidation and political interference, with reform efforts making little progress. A similar situation in Guatemala has resulted in high levels of impunity, allowing organized crime to engage in "widespread acts of violence and extortion," HRW said.
However the report did note some progress in Guatemala. In February nine members of the Zetas cartel were convicted for the massacre of 27 farmers in 2011 in the northern Peten region.
With regards to Guatemala, I am disappointed. The reforms supported by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the international community, the Public Prosecutor's office under Claudia Paz, and a reinvigorated civil society, had so much potential. Don't get me wrong, I still believe that the justice system is stronger today than it was five years ago, from criminal investigations all the way to prosecutions and sentencing. Impunity has been somewhat reduced and violent crime, homicide, has been reduced from approximately 46 to 32 per 100,000. Remember, El Salvador and Honduras have homicide rates that surpass 60 per 100,000, down from highs in both countries, and justice systems where estimates indicate that less than five percent of homicides are solved and result in prison sentences.

If the political and economic elites were on board with the reforms, conditions probably would have improved even more so. Unfortunately, they seem to want to obstruct at every turn. Obviously, not all of them, but enough to stymie much needed progress. The extent to which they went to capture the supreme and appellate court selection progress is evidence of their commitment. As of right now, President Otto Perez Molina seems to be content with saying good-bye to CICIG later this year. It will take some pressure from the international community to convince the Guatemalan elite that denying an extension to CICIG will cause more harm than good.