Guatemala Urged to Continue Public Prosecutor Reforms

Reforms at Guatemala’s Public Ministry over the past three years have resulted in “a significant improvement in criminal prosecutions,” according to a new report released in Guatemala today by the Centro de Estudios de Justicia de las Americas (CEJA).

But the report warns that if reforms are not continued there is the possibility of a return to old, discredited investigative practices and to a system lacking in clarity and transparency.

The study was carried out by a team of experts at CEJA led by Germán C. Garavano, until last March the chief prosecutor for the city of Buenos Aires. The assessment, prepared with support from the Open Society Justice Initiative, concludes that Guatemala’s system of criminal prosecution needs to be further developed in order to ensure the broadest possible impact.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative, said:

"This report uses criteria based on international good practice to assess the performance of the Public Ministry’s reforms, including the consideration of the rate of prosecution of reported serious crime, the progression of cases, and the uniformity of application of the law. The evidence shows that Guatemala is on the right path.”

The CEJA study was launched in Guatemala City at an event supported by the Public Ministry and by the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemela (CICG).

The report credits the Public Ministry with “significantly improving criminal prosecutions, reducing impunity for the most serious crimes, increasing the level of transparency and accountability, and strengthening the Public Ministry’s institutional functioning.”

“All these steps have contributed to a better institutional functioning, and to increased confidence in the justice system. This task is vitally relevant to a fragile young democratic system such as exists in Guatemala, where the institutions of the justice system play a fundamental role in the separation of state powers, and in consolidating the rule of law.”

As evidence of the success of the reforms, the report notes:

  • The number of cases lodged with Public Ministry prosecutors increased by more than a third, from 216,111 to more than 300,000.
  • The number of cases resolved without going to court increased almost four times, from 5,800 to 27,950.
  • The number of convictions secured almost doubled, from 3,280 to 7,122.

The assessment argues that the successful outcome of the Public Ministry in Guatemala reflected lessons learned from judicial reforms elsewhere in Latin America. It concludes:

"We believe the work done in Guatemala can become a reference point for other countries in Central America in the struggle against impunity, given the fact that many countries continue to struggle in the battle against organized crime and extreme violence."

Guatemala piloted reforms of its prosecutorial system in 2009 in the district of Quetzaltenango en 2009, under former Attorney General Amílcar Velásquez. This work was later expanded Claudia Paz y Paz, in office from December 2010 to May 2014.

CEJA is an independent international organization founded in 1999 by the Organization of American States (OAS), with the aim of supporting Latin American states in their efforts at justice sector reform. Its mission is to support justice reform, capacity building research and other work across the Americas.