Costa Rica: Policies and practices adopted by the authorities to protect individuals who report that they are at risk from criminals after having made a police complaint, including witness protection programs; recourse available to those who are dissatisfied with police officers' response to their request for protection; whether the authorities sanction those police officers who advise individuals to leave Costa Rica and seek asylum elsewhere; whether police officers throughout the country are aware of, and compliant with, policies and other directives issued by central authorities (2002 to October 2004)
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada|
|Publication Date||19 October 2004|
|Citation / Document Symbol||CRI43086.E|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Costa Rica: Policies and practices adopted by the authorities to protect individuals who report that they are at risk from criminals after having made a police complaint, including witness protection programs; recourse available to those who are dissatisfied with police officers' response to their request for protection; whether the authorities sanction those police officers who advise individuals to leave Costa Rica and seek asylum elsewhere; whether police officers throughout the country are aware of, and compliant with, policies and other directives issued by central authorities (2002 to October 2004), 19 October 2004, CRI43086.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/42df60d811.html [accessed 19 June 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
This Response replaces CRI40796.E of 21 January 2003 and CRI41719.E of 7 January 2004.
Protection available to witnesses
An article in El Heraldo of 12 July 2002 reported that a witness protection plan was on a list of future projects for the Public Force (Fuerza Publica). Walter Navarro, the Director of the Public Force, noted that while Costa Rica was "not a country that urgently needs" to put in motion a witness protection program, a plan would be developed as a preventative measure (El Heraldo 12 July 2002). According to Navarro, this plan was an "ambitious" project that would have a considerable financial cost and would require reforms to the legal and judicial framework of the country (ibid.). That said, Navarro expected the process to ratify the plan would be very slow because the Legislative Assembly would need to review and approve it (ibid.). On 10 May 2003, La Nación stated that the authorities were reportedly in the midst of developing a witness protection program as a means of safeguarding the witnesses and victims of organized crime. However, in 13 October 2004 telephone interviews, the Coordinator of the Costa Rica-based Peace and Justice Service in Latin America (Servicio Paz y Justicia en América Latina, SERPAJ-AL) and an official with the Special Protection Area of the Office of the Ombudsman (Defensoría de los Habitantes, Costa Rica 13 Oct. 2004) stated that Costa Rica still did not have a witness protection programme. The Coordinator of SERPAJ-AL added that he was unaware of any legislative initiatives being undertaken by the government addressing witness protection (13 Oct. 2004).
In a 14 October 2003 interview, the Coordinator of SERPAJ-AL, who was the assistant coordinator at the time, stated that, despite the lack of a protection program, judges are empowered to order protective measures to safeguard witnesses they deem to be at risk. The Coordinator characterized these measures as relatively modest, involving, for example, the posting of a police officer or bodyguard outside a witness' place of residence (SERPAJ-AL 14 Oct. 2003). The Coordinator also noted that, because protective measures must be ordered by a judge, they are normally only available once a case has gone to trial, although he added that he was aware of a small number of narcotics-related cases in which witnesses had been granted protection earlier (ibid.). On 13 October 2004, the Coordinator stated that these protections were still in place in Costa Rica.
La Nación reported on 3 February 2004 that the Plenary Court had approved an agreement of cooperation brokered by the Judicial Branch and the Ministry of Public Security on granting temporary protection to judges, lawyers and witnesses or other victims who have been threatened. Rogelio Ramos, the Minister of Public Security, stated that the agreement formalized a practice that had already taken place on many occasions (La Nación 3 Feb. 2004). Under the agreement, requests for protection to the Minister of Public Security are carried out by the president of the Supreme Court or the attorney general, whereas before the requests were made directly by the affected party (ibid.). The Minister then determines whether the Judicial Investigative Organization (Organismo de Investigación Judicial, OIJ) is to intervene and provide protection (ibid.). The agreement, which is in effect for five years with an automatic extension, also provides self-defence training for threatened or at risk judicial officials, witnesses and victims (ibid.).
In a report of 5 December 2002, Casa Alianza stated that its investigative work, which led to the arrest and prosecution of five members of a pedophile ring, had made the organization the target of hundreds of anonymous phone calls threatening to assassinate the staff member who was in charge of the investigation. Apparently, police protection was only obtained after "a tremendous international outcry," at which point the authorities appointed a 24-hour guard to the Casa Alianza staff member (Casa Alianza 5 Dec. 2002).
Topeka Capital Journal reported on 13 September 2004 that the parents of an American student, who was killed in Costa Rica in 2001, offered a $50,000 reward to witnesses in the slaying of their daughter. According to Larry Thomas, an agent of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the witnesses who came forward in the case needed this reward money because there was no witness protection programs and they were "on their own" if they wanted to relocate elsewhere in Costa Rica (Topeka Capital Journal 13 Sept. 2004). Thomas stated that the threat to witnesses was confirmed when one of them had been "roughed up" by one of the defendants in the case (ibid.).
Whether authorities advise witnesses or victims of crime to leave the country
No mention of incidents in which police officers or other state officials have advised individuals that they should leave Costa Rica and seek asylum elsewhere could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. Neither SERPAJ-AL nor the Office of the Ombudsman have received any complaints from individuals alleging that they had received such advice from the police (SERPAJ-AL 14 Oct. 2003; Costa Rica 17 Oct. 2003).
Police forces and recourse available for persons dissatisfied with the police
According to the Consul General of the Embassy of Costa Rica, in Ottawa, the country's police forces consist of the administrative police service, attached to the Ministry of Public Security (Ministerio de Seguridad Pública, MSP), and the judicial police, attached to the Judicial Investigation Organization (Organismo de Investigación Judicial, OIJ) (12 Dec. 2003). The administrative police service is itself divided into the Civil Guard (Guardia Civil), assigned to major cities and border areas, and the Rural Guard (Guardia Rural), assigned to small towns, rural areas and tourist sites (ibid.). The administrative police service is responsible for preserving public order and dealing with community problems (ibid.). The judicial police, which generally has an office in every municipality, receives and investigates criminal complaints, as well as executes judicial orders such as the arrest of a suspect (ibid.).
Those dissatisfied with their treatment at the hands of law enforcement officials can seek redress through a number of channels (SERPAJ-AL 14 Oct. 2003). For example, the SERPAJ-AL Coordinator stated that the Office of the Attorney General (Ministerio Público) investigates individuals' complaints of abuse of authority and other wrongdoing by police (ibid.). Additionally, the Office of the Comptroller of Services (Contraloría de Servicios) is a unit within the Ministry of Public Security to which individuals can report wrongdoing by police officers attached to the Ministry (Costa Rica 17 Oct. 2003). Complaints are then investigated by the Ministry's Legal Disciplinary Department (Departamento Disciplinario Legal), which forwards its recommendations regarding the imposition of any sanctions to the Personnel Council (Consejo de Personal) (ibid.). Police officers dissatisfied with the council's ruling have the right to appeal its verdict to the minister of public security (ibid.). In October 2003, Minister of Public Security Rogelio Ramos Martínez was cited as saying that 250 officers had been dismissed in 2002 for reasons such as corruption, abuse of authority, uttering threats, absenteeism, extortion and drug use (La Nación 31 Oct. 2003).
In the case of wrongdoing by OIJ officers, individuals can submit complaints to the Comptroller of Services of the Judicial Branch, to which the OIJ is attached (Costa Rica n.d.a), in writing, in person or by telephone (ibid. n.d.b). According to the United States Bureau of Justice, the Office of Internal Affairs, the body charged with investigating these complaints, dealt with 659 cases in 1997, the last year for which statistics are available (US 3 June 2003, Sec. V.7).
Complaints regarding the conduct of law enforcement officials are also received and investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman (SERPAJ-AL 14 Oct. 2003; US 3 June 2003, Sec. V.7; Costa Rica 17 Oct. 2003), an independent body attached to the Legislative Assembly (Asamblea Legislativa) (ibid. n.d.c). In correspondence dated 17 October 2003, the Director of the Costa Rican Office of the Ombudsman's Special Protection Area (Area de Protección Especial) stated that the type of assistance provided by her organization would depend on the circumstances of the case in question. If an individual had already submitted a complaint regarding the behaviour of a police officer to the Ministry of Public Security, the Office of the Ombudsman would monitor the investigation and subsequent disciplinary hearing to ensure that due process had been followed (Costa Rica 17 Oct. 2003). If, however, an individual approached the Office of the Ombudsman claiming that his or her request for police assistance had gone unanswered, the Office would provide advice on how to obtain such assistance or on the procedure to register a complaint against the police officers involved (ibid.).
The Director also indicated that if the Office of the Ombudsman became aware of an instance in which a police officer had failed to discharge his or her duties, it would initiate an administrative investigation of the matter, forwarding its findings and recommendations to the Ministry of Public Security upon completion (ibid). Between 1 May 2002 and 30 April 2003, the Office of the Ombudsman received a total of 64 complaints regarding the country's police forces, of which 13 involved police inaction (ibid. 2003, 317). Between 1 May 2003 and 30 April 2004, the same office reported a total of 57 complaints lodged against the various police forces, of which six involved police inaction (ibid. 2004, 329).
No information on whether police officers throughout the country are aware of, and compliant with, policies and other directives issued by central authorities could be found among the sources consulted by Research Directorate. However, according to the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2003, Costa Rican "law enforcement officials continue to demonstrate growing professionalism and reliability" (Mar. 2004, Sec. I). The report further stated that the "commitment to combat public corruption reaches to the highest levels of the [government]," while adding that "President Pacheco has worked aggressively to deter corruption among public officials" (International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2003 Mar. 2004, Sec. III).
Information could not be obtained from the Ministry of Public Security, the Judicial Investigation Organization or the police.
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 for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Casa Alianza. 5 December 2002. "Historic Sentence Against Child Abusers in Costa Rica."
Costa Rica. 13 October 2004. Defensoría de los Habitantes, Area de Protección Especial, San José. Telephone interview with an official.
_____. 2004. Defensoría de los Habitantes. Informe de Labores 2003-2004.
_____. 17 October 2003. Defensoría de los Habitantes, Area de Protección Especial, San José. Correspondence from the Director.
_____. 2003. Defensoría de los Habitantes. Informe de Labores 2002-2003.
_____. n.d.a. Poder Judicial. "Estructura"
_____. n.d.b. Poder Judicial. "Contraloría de Servicios: ¿cómo tener aceso?"
_____. n.d.c. Defensoría de los Habitantes. "Competencia y Responsabilidades."
Embassy of Costa Rica, Ottawa. 12 December 2003. Correspondence from the Consul General.
El Heraldo [San José]. 12 July 2002. "Plan de proteccion a testigos en panales."
International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2003. March 2004. "Costa Rica." US Department of State. Washington, DC.
La Nación [San José]. 3 February 2004. Irene Vizcaíno. "Seguridad protegerá a jueces, fiscales y testigos."
_____. 31 October 2003. Rónald Moya. "Ramos detalla corrupción."
_____. 18 May 2003. Jairo Villegas and Israel Oconitrillo. "Denuncian amenazas a testigos."
_____. 10 May 2003. Irene Vizcaíno. "Procuran proteger a los testigos."
Servicio Paz y Justicia en América Latina (SERPAJ-AL), San José. 13 October 2004. Telephone interview with the Coordinator.
_____. 14 October 2003. Telephone interview with the Assistant Coordinator.
Topeka Capital Journal. 13 September 2004. "Jeanette Stauffer Says Legal, Travel Expenses Have Mounted; Deadline for Reward Looms: Mother of Slain KU Student Needs $22,000 for Obligation." (Dialog)
United States (US). 3 June 2003. Department of Justice. José María Rico. "Costa Rica." World Factbook of Criminal Justice Systems.
Additional Sources Consulted
Attempts to obtain information from the Colegio de Abogados de Costa Rica, Embassy of Costa Rica, Ottawa, Fuerza Pública de Costa Rica, Ministerio de Seguridad Pública (MSP), and the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ) were unsuccessful.
Internet sites, including: AM Costa Rica [San José], Asociación de Ciencias Penales de Costa Rica, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2003, Dialog, Inside Costa Rica [San José], Teletica, Tico Times [San José].