On May 17, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) officially released its 2011 Prosecutorial Reform Index (PRI) for Guatemala during a Guatemala City event that formally presented the publication to Attorney General Dr. Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey. ABA ROLI Country Director Alfonso Sierra and Claudia González, a criminal law expert who served as co-assessor for the PRI, presented the report and its findings to the attorney general and the secretary for criminal policy from the Guatemalan Public Ministry. According to Sierra, the attorney general accepted the PRI assessment as a baseline to measure advances in the institutional development of the prosecutorial system.
The findings of the PRI reflect a prosecutorial system in crisis. Despite the dedicated efforts of prosecutors and staff, the Public Ministry faces severe budget and staffing shortages while confronting an increasingly high crime rate, a lack of public trust in the justice system, and even threats to the physical safety and lives of justice professionals. Impunity remains a serious problem in Guatemala, with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala reporting that only half of crimes are reported and an estimated two percent of reported crimes lead to a trial. The findings note that the Public Ministry lacks the necessary resources to effectively carry out its mandate, and that prosecutors report a lack of prosecutorial independence and threats to their personal safety present major challenges.
It should be noted that the PRI also revealed several positive trends. Prosecutors are generally perceived to be ethical, in many cases zealously pursuing their duties in the face of threats to their personal safety. The Public Ministry, recognizing its lack of resources to provide services to victims of crime, works closely with civil society organizations to assist victims. Moreover, the Public Ministry is generally transparent and accountable, providing detailed statistics on case resolution in its annual report and maintaining communication with the media.
ABA ROLI considers the PRI a road map for strengthening the prosecutorial system and for combating impunity in Guatemala. Through its current activities in Guatemala, ABA ROLI builds the capacity of, and promotes coordination between, the National Police and prosecutors to address cases related to narcotics and transnational crimes. Recently, 46 justice sector professionals attended a training that featured representatives from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The workshop introduced specialized methods of criminal investigation to members of the National Civil Police Elite Team and to prosecutors from Guatemala’s narcotics, money laundering, corruption and organized crime units. In a series of interactive sessions, ABA ROLI’s team of international trainers discussed the legal framework for specialized investigation methods, demonstrated how international investigation entities are regulated, and highlighted the experiences of prosecution units from across Latin America.