Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 07:59 GMT

Costa Rica: The effectiveness of the police, including the victim and witness protection program

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 4 October 2011
Citation / Document Symbol CRI103814.FE
Related Document Costa Rica : information sur l'efficacité de la police, y compris sur le programme de protection des victimes et des témoins
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Costa Rica: The effectiveness of the police, including the victim and witness protection program, 4 October 2011, CRI103814.FE, available at: [accessed 30 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.


According to the Latin American Weekly Report, published by Latin American Newsletters, a source of information on the political and economic development of Latin America and the Caribbean, based in London (Latin American Newsletters n.d.), the issue of national security is raising more and more concerns among the population (ibid. 31 Mar. 2011). A report published by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), an advisory committee of the American government, states that the United States Department of State is of the opinion that the criminal threat for San José is "high" (US 4 July 2011, 1). According to police data, crime is escalating and this can be attributed to the fact that the government does not coordinate policing activities, "combined with a complex judicial system" in which few crimes are taken through a complete judicial process (ibid.). According to OSAC, the crimes committed most often are robberies, purse snatchings and burglaries (ibid.). Some regions of the country are also faced with other crimes such as kidnappings and "[v]iolent" home invasions (ibid.).

An article published by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), an independent research organization based in Washington (COHA n.d.), points out that border control, drug trafficking and "the expansion of international criminal organizations into the country" are the main national security issues (ibid. 2 June 2011).

According to an article by Agencia EFE, a Spanish news agency, Costa Rica has the lowest homicide rate in Central America (Agencia EFE 20 May 2011), although it [translation] "shows a consistent upward trend" (ibid.). The 2011 Freedom House report indicates that the country "has experienced a significant increase in homicides" (Freedom House 2011). According to COHA, the homicide rate has doubled in the last five years (4 Aug. 2010).


According to the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010, published by the United States Department of State, Costa Rica does not have a military, and the civilian authorities "maintained effective control over the 13 agencies that have law enforcement components" (US 8 Apr. 2011, sect. 1d). Country Reports states that the uniformed police force, the drug control police, the border police and the coast guard are under the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Security (ibid.). The traffic police fall under the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation and the penitentiary police fall under the Ministry of Justice (ibid.).

An article published by COHA points out that the police forces in Costa Rica are made up of approximately 10,000 officers, and the Civil Guard consists of 4,500 troops (COHA 2 June 2011). Even if the police forces in Costa Rica are reportedly insufficiently trained and have a shortage of personnel and resources, they are reportedly better trained and equipped than other Central American police forces (ibid.). OSAC points out that Costa Rica employs the 911 emergency call service, however, the "response time varies widely" (US 4 July 2011).

With respect to human rights, a professor at the University of North Texas pointed out that, in Costa Rica, "the general human rights climate is much better" than in other Central American countries because "'there is less abuse by the Fuerza Publica [police]'" (COHA 2 June 2011). Along those lines, Kevin Casas-Zamora, a former vice-president of the country, points out that the population does not perceive the police forces as a "threat" (ibid.).

However, two articles published by the Mexican news agency NOTIMEX, in 2011 and in 2009, indicate that there is reportedly corruption within the Costa Rican police (NOTIMEX 17 Aug. 2011; ibid. 17 June 2009). The 2011 article states that approximately 20 police officers were detained for corruption and that, according to the Minister of Security, the fact that over 350 new police officers were hired should help to [translation] "clean it up" (NOTIMEX 17 Aug. 2011). Additional information on the detained police officers could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. The 2009 article states that, according to one of the news editors at the local daily newspaper La Nación, there are an increasing number of reports of corruption cases involving police officers and that these officers took part in crimes such as vehicle theft, drug trafficking and armed robberies (NOTIMEX 17 June 2009). The article also states that 41 officers were dismissed from their duties, between January and May 2009, because of [translation] "serious misconduct such as domestic assault, using illegal substances and falsifying documents" (ibid.).

Legislation and protection measures

The law protecting victims, witnesses and others involved in criminal proceedings (Ley de protección de víctimas, testigos y demás intervinientes del proceso penal) was adopted on 11 February 2009 (NOTIMEX 19 Feb. 2009) and published on 21 April 2009 in the official journal La Gaceta (Teletica 23 Apr. 2009). The coming into force of this law led to the opening of the Office for Assistance and Protection of Offence Victims (Oficina de atención y protección a la víctimas del delito, OAPVD), which aims to [translation] "receive and assess requests, and establish the necessary protection levels" (Diario Extra 5 Mar. 2009).

However, the OAPVD counsel and coordinator pointed out in an interview with Diario Extra, an online daily in Costa Rica, that this office opened on 8 May 2000, as the Office for Assistance of Victims (Oficina de Atención a la Víctima) (15 May 2009). In addition, she specified that the victim protection program, run by OAPVD, was implemented in 2006, because of the emergence of an [translation] "organized crime phenomenon" and of its potential risk (Diario Extra5 May 2009).

Cited in an article published by La Nación, the counsel and coordinator stated that the assistance provided in 2000 by the Office for Assistance of Victims was mainly psychological and that social and legal assistance had been added with the coming into force of the law in 2009 (3 May 2009). She stated that the law [translation] "helps to organize the work" and informs "the other organizations that the matters being handled by the OAPVD are priorities" (La Nación 3 May 2009). She also explained that the coming into force of this law enables them to obtain funds and gives direction to the work done by the OAPVD (ibid.). She stated that the law divides the OAPVD into two sectors-victim assistance and victim protection-that remain connected despite the confidentiality with which they must comply (ibid.). According to two sources, the Judicial Investigation Organization (Organismo de Investigación Judicial, OIJ) is in charge of witness and victim protection (ibid. 3 May 2009; Teletica 23 Apr. 2009). According to the Diario Extraarticle, the OIJ comes under the Public Ministry (5 Mar. 2009; Costa Rica n.d.).

According to Diario Extra (5 Mar. 2009) and La Nación (13 Feb. 2009), the main services that the OAPVD offers to victims are psychological assistance, home surveillance, personal protection by a bodyguard, and a change of home and employment, if needed (Diario Extra 5 Mar. 2009; La Nación 13 Feb. 2009). While the witnesses and victims are in the protection program, their rights include receiving [translation] "death and injury insurance" and "help" to leave their country and establish residence abroad (ibid. 13 Feb. 2009; see also Costa Rica 4 Mar. 2009, Art. 9).

In exchange, [translation] "people subject to protection must maintain strict confidentiality" and "respect the protection measure by providing to the authorities information on the case under investigation" (Diario Extra5 Mar. 2009; Agencia EFE 5 Mar. 2009; see also Costa Rica 4 Mar. 2009, Art. 10). An article published by La Nación states that the law calls for a review of the protection measures every six months (La Nación 13 Feb. 2009; see also Costa Rica 4 Mar. 2009, Art. 12b. Articles 9, 10 and 12b of the law protecting victims, witnesses and others involved in criminal proceedings are provided in an attachment to this Response.

The funding for these protection measures is reportedly provided by a [translation] "tax of 8 percent on securities issued in foreign currency," which would generate an annual sum of approximately 2,000 million to 3,000 million colons [3,865,438.89 (XE 2 Sept. 2011a) to 5,798,158.34 Canadian dollars (CAD) (XE 2 Sept. 2011b)] (Diario Extra 15 May 2009).

According to another article published by La Nación, in 2011, the OAPVD had a total of 15 offices (11 Apr. 2011). According to that same source, 11,682 victims requested assistance from the OAPVD in 2010, which represents 9,000 victims more than in 2009 (La Nación 11 Apr. 2011). Of these 11,682 victims, 7,000 were women, and the majority of the victims, that is, 40 percent of them, were between 18 and 34 years old (ibid.). Threats, homicides, armed assaults, thefts and attempted homicides are the crimes most often registered in the protection program (ibid.). The assistance program reports mainly of sexual abuse, but also of threats and assaults with an edged weapon (ibid.).

The same article states that a pilot project was planned for the beginning of August 2011, and that, according to the president of the Court, the purpose of the project is to [translation] "centralize in one location the various services that victims require, in particular, to report [an offence] and request spousal support or protection measures" (ibid.). A lawyer from the victim assistance sector indicated that a victim must currently go to five different locations to obtain these services (ibid.). Additional information on this pilot project or on the effectiveness of the protection measures could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

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 sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agencia EFE. 20 May 2011. "BID aprueba $132 millones para lucha contra crimen organizado en Costa Rica." (Yahoo! Noticias) [Accessed 18 Aug. 2011]

_____. 5 March 2009. "Costa Rica cuenta con nuevas leyes contra terrorismo y de protección testigos." ( [Accessed 17 Aug. 2011]

Costa Rica. 4 March 2009. Ley de protección a víctimas, testigos y demás sujetos intervinientes en el proceso penal, reformas y adición al Código Procesal Penal y al Código Penal. [Accessed 26 Aug. 2011]

_____. N.d. Poder Judicial. "Organismo de Investigación Judicial." [Accessed 3 Oct. 2011]

Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA). 2 June 2011. Alex Sanchez. "Costa Rica: An Army-less Nation in a Problem-Prone Region" [Accessed 18 Aug. 2011]

_____. 4 August 2010. Isabelle Van Hook. "Costa Rica's Fateful Move: San José Expands its Role in U.S.-led Counter-Narcotics Efforts." [Accessed 18 Aug. 2011]

_____. N.d. "About COHA." [Accessed 27 Sept. 2011]

Diario Extra [San Jose]. 15 May 2009. Gerardo Ruiz Ramón. "Nunca nos han matado a un testigo o víctima." [Accessed 16 Aug. 2011]

_____. 5 March 2009. Gerardo Sáenz Valverde. "Arias firmó leyes contra terrorismo y protección de víctimas y testigos." [Accessed 16 Aug. 2011]

Freedom House. 2011. "Costa Rica." Freedom in the World 2011. [Accessed 16 Aug. 2011]

Latin American Newsletters. 31 March 2011. "Costa Rica: Chinchilla Puts Campaign Promise Aside." Latin American Weekly Report. [Accessed 18 Aug. 2011]

_____. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 3 Oct. 2011]

La Nación [Costa Rica]. 11 April 2011. David Delgado. "Poder Judicial busca concentrar atención a víctimas de delitos." [Accessed 23 Aug. 2011]

_____. 3 May 2009. Carlos Arguedas C. "30 víctimas por semana buscan protección." [Accessed 23 Aug. 2011]

_____. 13 February 2009. Irene Vizcaíno. "Víctimas y testigos recibirán desde apoyo psicológico hasta escoltas." [Accessed 26 Aug. 2011]

NOTIMEX, Agencia de Noticias del Estado Mexicano. 17 August 2011. George Rodríguez. "Luchan autoridades de Costa Rica contra corrupción policial." ( [Accessed 2 Sept. 2011]

_____. 17 June 2009. "Los costarricenses piden combatir la corrupción policial." (Radio La Primerísima) [Accessed 2 Sept. 2011]

_____. 19 February 2009. "Dará nueva ley en Costa Rica protección a víctimas y testigos." ( [Accessed 17 Aug. 2011]

Teletica. 23 April 2009. Álvaro Sánchez. "OIJ no cuenta con recursos económicos para proteger a testigos." [Accessed 18 Aug. 2011]

United States (US). 4 July 2011. Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). "Costa Rica 2011 Crime and Safety Report." [Accessed 16 Aug. 2011]

_____. 8 April 2011. Department of State. "Costa Rica." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010. > [Accessed 16 Aug. 2011]

XE. 2 September 2011a. "Résultats du convertisseur universel de devises." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2011]

_____. 2 September 2011b. "Résultats du convertisseur universel de devises." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2011]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact representatives of the Fondation Friedrich Ebert, the Poder Judicial, the Ministerio Público of Costa Rica and the Oficina de Atención y Protección a la Víctima were unsuccessful.

Internet sites, including: Al Día, Amnesty International, Costa Rica - Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos, Global Advice Network, Global Integrity, Human Rights Watch, Prensa Libre, The Tico Times.


Costa Rica. 4 March 2009. Law protecting victims, witnesses and others involved in criminal proceedings, and reforms and additions to the Criminal Procedures Code and the Criminal Code. Articles 9, 10 and 12b translated by the Translation Bureau, Public Works and Government Services Canada. [Accessed 26 Aug. 2011]

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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