Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 14:07 GMT

Costa Rica: Existence of policies governing police handling of domestic violence complaints; police officers' attitude towards such complaints

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 21 January 2004
Citation / Document Symbol CRI42318.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Costa Rica: Existence of policies governing police handling of domestic violence complaints; police officers' attitude towards such complaints, 21 January 2004, CRI42318.E, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis 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.

No information on a policy governing police handling of domestic violence complaints could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate, although the Ministry of Interior, Police and Public Security (Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, MSP), which oversees the country's police force, has adopted a Gender Equality and Equity Policy (Política de Igualdad y Equidad de Género) (Costa Rica Sept. 2003). This policy includes a provision stating that the police will seek to address and prevent domestic violence, and that a specialized group will be trained and equipped to deal with the problem (ibid.).

However, an official attached to the National Women's Institute's (Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres, INAMU) Gender Violence Unit (Area de Violencia de Género) stated that the police does not have a formal domestic violence policy (6 Jan. 2004), though she added that her organization has entered into an agreement with the MSP to provide training to police officers in how to deal with domestic violence complaints (ibid.). Since the project's inception in 2000, roughly 1,200 officers out of a force of 11,000 have participated in the training, which consists of 12 sessions that are each 8 hours in length (ibid.). The official also noted that the MSP has a protocol in place to ensure that every police unit includes at least one officer who has received the training (ibid.). Besides dealing with domestic violence complaints, such officers are also expected to provide guidance to their colleagues, as well as to engage in prevention activities (ibid.).

The INAMU official claimed that the training programme has had very good results, with a noticeable improvement in police officers' attitude in domestic violence cases (ibid.). However, the executive director of the San José-based Foundation for Alternative Promotion, Training and Action (Fundación Promoción, Capacitación y Acción Alternativa, PROCAL), a non-governmental organization specializing in domestic and sexual violence issues, indicated that the results of efforts to improve police handling of domestic violence complaints, including the provision of training workshops, have been very insufficient (muy insuficientes), both in terms of police intervention and victim protection (9 Jan. 2004).

According to a sociology professor affiliated with the University of Costa Rica (Universidad de Costa Rica, UCR) Women's Studies Research Centre (Centro de Investigación en Estudios de Mujer, CIEM), while there has been an improvement in police handling of domestic violence complaints, the main problem facing victims is less the quality of policing than it is the weakness of laws in this area, which are responsible for placing women at high risk of continuing violence (14 Jan. 2004). The professor's assessment of the deficiency of domestic violence legislation corroborates an undated report prepared by the director of the CIEM, Laura Guzmán Stein, who indicates that a perpetrator's failure to abide by protection measures imposed by a judge

is considered disobedience on his part, for which the sanction is a fine, but one which is not convertible to a jail term. This way, if the man does not have money to pay the fine, the breach goes unpunished. The effectiveness of this legal instrument depends, in addition, on provisions fixed by the judge, and the maintenance of those provisions after the court appearance. This has been one of the most problematic aspects, since in 1997 only 19.50% of the provisional measures were maintained. This situation has improved, although in 2000 the percentage only reached 29.11. More recently, in almost half of completed cases, the judge lifted the protection measures initially established, the main reason being the non-appearance of the victim (measures were lifted for 68.6% and 70.6% of total cases, for 1999 and 2000 respectively). One of the weaknesses of the Law is that it requires the appearance or presence of both parties, victim and aggressor, at the hearing in which evidence is presented to decide whether the measures are to be maintained.

Many women do not attend from fear of confronting their aggressor face to face. Others do not know that after the judge's statement on the measure, they need to appear within a term of three days at an oral hearing where the determination will be carried out. If they do not ask and they are not informed of this and they do not appear to this hearing, the case is filed.

Although the Law offers a resource to protect the rights of women who live under violent conditions, it has been demonstrated to be insufficient and weak in protecting the personal integrity of a significant number, mainly adults and adolescents. These are the women who run the greatest risk of being attacked and killed, because the laws impose low penalties for the aggressors (CIEM n.d.).

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.


Centro de Investigación en Estudios de Mujer (CIEM), San José. n.d. Laura Guzmán Stein. "Report on Legislation in Effect in Costa Rica to Protect the Human Rights of Women with Respect to Intrafamily and Sexual Violence."

Costa Rica. September 2003. Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública (MSP). "Política de Igualdad y Equidad de Género." (Google cache) [Accessed 29 Dec. 2003]

Fundación Promoción, Capacitación y Acción Alternativa (PROCAL), San José. 9 January 2004. Correspondence from the Executive Director.

Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres (INAMU), Area de Violencia de Género, San José. 6 January 2004. Telephone interview with an official.

Professor of sociology, Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR), San José. 14 January 2004. Correspodence.

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB databases

The Instituto Latinoamericano de las Naciones Unidas para la Prevención del Delito y el Tratamiento del Delincuente (ILANUD) did not respond to requests for information

Internet sites, including:

Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres (INAMU)

Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública (MSP)

La Nación [San José]. 2002-2003

Servicio de Noticias de la Mujer (SEM)

Tico Times [San José]

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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