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June 01, 2016

Using Forensic Evidence to Combat Trafficking in Persons in Guatemala

In Guatemala, trafficking in persons (TIP) is an urgent issue for the justice sector to address. The most recent report on “Human Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation Purposes in Guatemala,” presented in May 2016, by UNICEF and the International Commission against Impunity of Guatemala, identifies Guatemala as a country of origin, transit and destination for international trafficking of persons. Although the information regarding human trafficking in Guatemala is incomplete, the report infers that over the past five years, state authorities have detected an annual average of 1,568 victims of human trafficking and notes that civil society organizations have estimated that “in Guatemala City alone, there are approximately 15,000 boys, girls and adolescents victims of trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation.”

Ana Celia Hernandez, an ABA ROLI trainer, introduces participants to specialized training on trafficking in persons crimes at the training workshop held July 3-7, in Guatemala City. 

In El Salvador and Guatemala, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI) Program to Strengthen Forensic Capacity in Central America, supports efforts to fight crime and reduce violence by collaborating with police officers, lawyers, judges and other justice sector actors to increase the use of scientific evidence in criminal investigations and prosecutions. Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the program responds to the most pressing needs of the country, ranging from basic crime scene processing and litigation training needs, to specialized trainings in topic such as mass graves, organized crime and TIP.

To help combat this transnational crime, ABA ROLI developed a specialized training workshop focusing on the specifics of investigating TIP. The training, which is offered to judges, prosecutors, police investigators and firemen, instructs participants on the modalities and typology of TIP and related crimes, crime scene processing procedures, the search for and establishment of scientific technical evidence, the characteristics and objectives of the psychological assessment of the victims and the presentation of evidence during trial. The goals of the trainings are to increase expertise, improve inter-institutional coordination and raise judicial operators’ awareness. During the first week of July, ABA ROLI trained 37 justice sector actors in Guatemala City, on how to investigate and prosecute TIP cases. Using the methodology developed by ABA ROLI, the training provided an opportunity for participants to learn about concepts, mechanisms and technical procedures for investigating and processing TIP cases. Although most participants were familiar with TIP and related crimes, none of them had been trained on this topic.

Following the training, through a confidential course evaluation, ABA ROLI received positive feedback from participants, such as “We are the first to respond and assist the victim, and today, with the knowledge that we have acquired, we are going to be able to provide much better attention (to the victim).”

Furthermore, Chief Judge Leonel Alfredo Meza Reyes, of the Sentencing Court of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, Escuintla, and Chief Judge Verónica De León, of the Sentencing Court of Chimaltenango, agreed that the in-depth knowledge gained from the training course of national and international TIP regulations and of the psychological and social impact of these crimes on the victims is indispensable, and will allow them to adequately substantiate court rulings and provide victims with quality care.

“The transnational focus of this type of phenomenon and the application of international standards is very important here,” De León said. “The analysis of this in accordance with the criminal code makes us, as judges, sensitive to the subject and the application of international standards of the universal and regional systems, in order to be able to guarantee effective judicial guardianship and access to justice, primarily to be able to apply justice with awareness.”

Overall, the program has trained 6,305 justice sector actors on topics such as crime scene investigation, litigations skills, evidence law for forensics, femicide, hate crimes and TIP. Through the program, ABA ROLI also promotes greater coordination between forensics laboratories and law enforcement agencies in El Salvador and Guatemala by convening and supporting forensics working groups to promote internal cooperation between forensic experts, police, investigators, prosecutors and courts in each country and between the two countries. In addition, ABA ROLI is working with forensics laboratories to refine their internal processes, to implement better quality management systems and to improve their interactions with police and prosecutors.

To learn more about our work in Central America, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected]