By Mirte Postema
Headed DPLF’s Judicial Independence Program from 2009 to 2015. She is currently Fellow for Human Rights, Criminal Justice and Prison Reform in the Americas at the Stanford Human Rights Center at Stanford Law School.
Originally published in ilg2.org
On Monday February 22, 2016, the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) officially presented itself in Honduras. MACCIH is a hybrid mechanism, backed by the Organization of American States (OAS), which was created to assist Honduran institutions tasked with the prevention of corruption and impunity. The establishment of MACCIH is a drastic measure; an admission that the Honduran State, for whatever reason, is unable to adequately investigate and punish corruption cases. But for those who have followed the situation in Honduras, this is no surprise.
The country suffered a coup d’état in June 2009, which further weakened Honduras’ already frail institutions. It caused a severe deterioration in the protection of human rights, and increased poverty and inequality. Violence shot up to 85.5 intentional homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012, according to the National University’s Observatory of Violence (although the UN Office on Drugs and Crime even registered 90.4 intentional homicides that year).
Six years after the coup, the situation remains dire. According to a recently published report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Honduras continues to suffer from high levels of violence and organized crime, attacks on human rights defenders, militarization, growing inequality, and a lack of judicial independence. (And its highly criticized Supreme Court selection process does not bode well for the future.)
This situation is, unfortunately, not unique in the region. In the countries that compose the Northern Triangle of Central America—Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras—levels of (organized) violence are high, government institutions are weak, and corruption and impunity are rampant.
Guatemala found its own way of attacking these problems. Following civil society initiative, the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) was created. After some eight years of operation that had ups and downs, CICIG has recently shown impressive results: it has rolled up crime rings run by notorious criminals and State officials, and has brought to light enormous corruption scandals, for example in the customs authority, in which the highest authorities of the country were involved. This led to the resignation of both the President and Vice-President, both of whom are currently imprisoned, awaiting trial.
The reactions in Guatemala’s neighboring countries were almost immediate: citizens in Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras called for the creation of similar entities in their countries. However, governments have been reluctant to accede to these demands. No initiative has been taken in Mexico, and El Salvador has only agreed to a U.S.-sponsored anti-corruption program. But in Honduras, following a scandal that involved the embezzlement of social security funds (that were, moreover, allegedly used to finance the governing party), national protesters called for the establishment of an investigative body similar to CICIG, to take on corruption in the country.
On September 28, 2015, the Secretary General of the OAS and Honduran President Hernández announced the creation of MACCIH to assist Honduran institutions in preventing, investigating and punishing corruption. MACCIH will be led by a chief of mission, also its spokesperson, who reports to the OAS Secretary General. This task will fall to former Peruvian Prime Minister Juan Jiménez.
MACCIH will work together with other entities in the OAS system, such as MESISIC, the Mechanism for Follow-Up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, which will analyze Honduras’ progress in implementing the Convention and elaborate a National Action Plan to implement MESISIC’s recommendations, and the Justice Studies Center of the Americas (CEJA). CEJA will assess which challenges the Honduran (criminal) justice system faces, and make recommendations on how to remedy those.
Furthermore, MACCIH will work with a group of international judges and prosecutors, who will provide “supervision” and recommendations to Honduran judicial institutions tasked with fighting corruption. This group will also oversee the implementation of judicial reforms. The OAS Department of Public Security (DSP) will collaborate with its Honduran counterparts to implement recommendations following an evaluation of the country’s national security system. MACCIH will also work together with civil society organizations (including universities) to monitor the judicial system.
As MACCIH starts its work, a number of important questions arise.
- How will MACCIH interpret its mandate? Will it merely “assist” Honduran institutions tasked with investigating and prosecuting corruption and those bringing those cases to justice, or will it have an autonomous team of investigators, like CICIG has in Guatemala? Will it only investigate the cases brought to its attention, or will it conduct independent inquiries? Will it address the root causes of Honduras’ problems, or only focus on a handful of corruption cases? And how will it select those cases?
- How will MACCIH select and vet its (national and international) officials? Any entity’s most important resource is its human capital. It is essential that the professionals working for-and with-MACCIH have a trajectory of unquestionable integrity, a high level of technical expertise, and experience working on complex investigations in insecure settings.
- Will MACCIH’s officials live in Honduras? Logically, the situation in Honduras is very complicated. To successfully carry out their duties, MACCIH officials need to gain an adequate understanding of the country’s (recent) history and its most important actors. This is essential for an adequate selection of cases, for instance. Additionally, MACCIH’s success is dependent on whether it will be able to build constructive relationships with national authorities—and such face-to-face processes take time.
- How will MACCIH coordinate between all different entities? Will these actors work together, or in parallel? Will they take into account the numerous assessments that have been conducted in recent years? Will MACCIH be able to forge constructive relationships with widely discredited actors, such as judicial authorities and the national police?
The answers to these questions will be determining for MACCIH’s success. After years of retrocessions, Honduras deserves to take a step in the right direction.