Existence of witness protection programs for those who testify against alleged organized crime members; reports of ties between organized crime and the Judicial Investigation Body (Organismo de Investigacion Judicial, OIJ), 1993-2000 [CRI35539.E]

The most recent published description of witness protection programs in Costa Rica available to the Research Directorate is a 1999 article from the daily La Nación.

The report states that protection of witnesses became of serious concern to authorities in 1996 during a trial of an organization dedicated to extortion and car theft; from the onset of the trial some officials and a few of the witnesses had to be provided with some form of protection (19 Apr. 1999). By early 1999 there was no established witness protection program: the judiciary reportedly claimed that the task, being a preventive one, should be carried out by the Public Ministry; the Ministry of Security claimed that a program would be helpful; the director of the Judicial Investigation Body (Organismo de Investigacion Judicial, OIJ) declared that a witness protection program was overdue (ibid.). Both a spokesperson for prosecutors and the head of the Public Ministry declared that the means for providing protection to witnesses in Costa Rica are scarce: when cases of witnesses requiring protection reach the Public Ministry, the measures at its disposal have been to request wiretaps to locate the source of telephone threats, and to submit to the tribunal handling the case a formal request to watch over (dar vigilancia) a witness or their family (ibid.).

Judicial authorities reportedly admit that the OIJ is not a preventive force, and the Public Force police do not have enough personnel to watch over a person or family; OIJ agents admit that witnesses sometimes have doubts or do not trust the effectiveness of agents (ibid.). Authorities suggest to witnesses at risk that they not go out alone, and that they change their travel routes, reinforce security measures at their home and workplace, change their telephone number, avoid giving information to strangers, and perhaps carry a gun (ibid.).

A report submitted by the Judiciary to the Legislative Assembly of Costa Rica in February 2000 recommended, among other things, the creation under the Public Ministry of an office for assisting victims and protecting witnesses (ibid. 23 Feb. 2000). The report also recommended that the OIJ and the Judiciary establish an office for locating witnesses, and that the police create a force specialized in locating them, since 60 per cent of trials in Costa Rica cannot proceed because of the absence of witnesses (ibid.).

Further to CRI29867.E of 17 August 1998 on the OIJ as it relates to organized crime and CRI30928.E of 20 January 1999 on corruption at the OIJ, during a 1997 interview the newly-appointed director of the OIJ expressed concern over organized crime in Costa Rica and stated that there was corruption within her organization, but this was "the exception rather than the rule" (es la excepción y no la regla) (La Nación 18 May 1997).

In 1999 a congressional report on the situation of law enforcement in Costa Rica accused the various police forces in general of being unable to control the different forms of crime in Costa Rica and of "improvising investigations"; however, no specific reference to direct ties between the OIJ and organized crime is reported (CAR 30 Apr. 1999).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References


Central America Report (CAR) [Guatemala City]. 30 April 1999. "Costa Rica: Congress Says State Fails to Address Crime Problem." http://www.worldcom.nl/CAR/ [Accessed 6 May 1999]

La Nación Digital [San José]. 23 February 2000. William Méndez Garita. "Llamada de atención a jueces." http://www.nacion.co.cr/ln_ee/2000/febrero/23/pais1.html [Accessed 24 Oct. 2000]

_____. 19 April 1999. Irene Vizcaíno. "Escasa protección a testigos." http://www.nacion.co.cr/ln_ee/1999/abril/19/pais10.html [Accessed 24 Oct. 2000]

_____. 18 May 1997. Ronald Moya Chacón. "La desvela el crimen organizado: Saborío reta a la eficiencia policial." http://www.nacion.co.cr/ln_ee/1997/mayo/18/pagina08.html [Accessed 24 Oct. 2000]

Additional Sources Consulted


Central America NewsPak [Austin, Tex.]. 1993-1999.

International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 1999.

IRB Databases.

Latin American Regional Reports: Central America & the Caribbean [London]. 1998-Oct. 2000.

NEXIS.

World News Connection (WNC).

Internet sites including:

Andean Commission of Jurists.

La Nación Online. Searchable archives, June 1995-Oct. 2000.

Internet search engines.

Note:

This list is not exhaustive. Country-specific publications available at the Resource Centre are not included.