Gallegos Case Study PAVI, Guatemala

By Post date: Mar 13, 2018


The Program Against Violence and Impunity (PAVI) in Guatemala operated from July 2009 until December 2012, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) at $7.1 million and implemented by Tetra Tech DPK (Tt DPK). Crime and violence is a central systemic problem that plagues Guatemala. Following the 1996 Peace Accords, violence has reached the highest levels since the Civil War. Violence has inundated both rural and urban areas and is not only driven by inequality and lack of opportunities, but also narcotrafficking, arms trafficking, and gangs. 

Past reform focused on developing a new legal framework and criminal procedures, but this approach has failed to produce a more efficient and effective criminal justice system. PAVI aimed to strengthen the rule of law by improving the delivery of justice and prosecuting services, increasing coordination among justice sector institutions, and building civil society’s capacity to monitor and report on justice operators.

 Lessons learned from this project include: 

   - Trainings should be held with regularity, integrating them into the work life of Guatemalan prosecutors
   - Court reform should be coordinated through the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court
   - The Public Ministry Office of Victim Attention should mirror reforms made by the Public Defender’s Office of Free Legal Aid
   - Support for police reform should be focused on aiming to improve the investigation capabilities of the police force and citizen’s
   - Local civil society organizations should be active participants in fighting crime and reducing violence
   - Shift in programmatic focus on reducing the availability of firearms


Guatemala experienced a bloody civil war from 1960 to 1996, which killed over 200,000 people in mostly rural areas. After the Peace Accords, crime and violence showed a brief reprieve, but since 2000 has returned to staggering levels. Guatemala ranks as one of the 25 most dangerous countries in the world. In recent years there has been a serious decline in the quality of democracy in Guatemala due to the upsurge in crime and violence. The cost of crime and violence is estimated to be US $2,291 million or 7.7% of their GDP.

Guatemala suffers from a severe impunity problem; public institutions are unable to target large-scale criminal issues or petty crime. There is 94% impunity in crimes against life and Guatemalan criminal courts only have an annual clearance rate of about 7%. In 2009 the number of intentional homicides (per 100,000 people) was 45.1. The high murder rate in Guatemala is driven by four key factors: narco-trafficking, gang-related violence, a heavily armed population, and a police/judicial system that is non-functioning. The PAVI project focuses on this last factor. High murder rates are concentrated in a relatively small number of regions (or departments). The “corridor of violence” starts on the Atlantic coast, passes through the eastern coast, including Guatemala City, and then continues towards the Pacific coast along the Mexican boarder. Guatemala’s criminal justice system ranks 84th out of 97 countries according to the Rule of Law Index in 2012. 

The Guatemalan judicial system often fails to punish criminals due to corruption, inefficiency, insufficient and poorly trained personnel, lack of funds, and intimidation of officials and witnesses. There is a connection between high levels of impunity and lack of confidence in the criminal justice system. Fewer victims and witnesses feel like they are able to seek legal protection, report crimes or work with officials, creating a vicious cycle.  In a period from 2000 to 2007, the system was only able to resolve an average of 14,000 cases a year, leaving around 180,000 cases unresolved. The criminal justice system is completely unable to provide swift and thorough justice.


PAVI was a USAID funded initiative implemented by the contractor TetraTech DPK. Local actors included the judicial branch ranging from judges to technical personnel. The Public Ministry (PM), which includes prosecutors the Criminal Public Defense Institute, the National Civilian Police, the Autonomous Forensic Institute (INACIF), and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). There were various civil society organizations involved, including the following: pro-justice movement, Familiares y Amigos contra la Delincuencia y la Secuestro (FADS), Mutual Support Group (MAG), and Fundación Sobrevivientes (Victims Assistance).


This first objective of PAVI was to improve the capacity of the justice system. These activities sought to aid in setting up a criteria for how to investigate, prosecute, and try serious crimes. The primary activities were to work with the PM to develop effective information management, support growth, help implement key legislation, create a training mechanism, and replicate more 24-hour courts. 

The second objective was to mobilize the justice sector and civil society to reduce and prevent violence. PAVI aimed to increase availability of effective governmental and non-governmental legal aid and other services such as psychological and medical assistance for victims, while helping to improve coordination among these services. The program aimed to set up a small grants mechanism to support civil society organizations on victim advocacy.

The third objective was the increase internal accountability and oversight in justice sector institutions. PAVI aimed to set up an Institutional Integrity Model (IIM) to contribute to the improvement of accountability and transparency in the PM. Other activities included aiming to create an evaluation system for the Public Defender’s Institute, working with judiciary staff to analyze recruitment strategies, evaluation and promotion of members, and creating a network of positive leadership within the PM.

The fourth objective was to support high impact courts. These courts focus on ensuring the most sensitive and complex cases like organized crime, kidnapping, and drug and human trafficking cases can be processed in a secure area with protection measures. This support is via improved procedures, protocol, and physical remodeling of court buildings. This objective also aimed to provide guidance for the implementation of successful courts with clear definitions to what falls into their jurisdiction, while also providing technical and material support.   

The fifth and final objective aims to strengthen justice sector capacity in Petén. Petén is one of the most dangerous regions in Guatemala with uncontrolled drug smuggling and human trafficking. The program will conduct an analysis of the court and PM practices for investigating and preparing cases. This objective is tied to the previous objectives of creating high impact courts and creating an effective manner of handling more serious crimes, but specifically focused within the Petén region. PAVI also seeks to establish a victim registry and work with victims’ outreach with public prosecutors and local civil society organizations.


Objective #1: Improve the capacity of the justice system

PAVI focused on prosecutorial training programs and upgrading the Sistema de Información y Control del Ministerio Público (SICOMP), a nation-wide database used to store, monitor, exchange, and analyze data. PAVI designed and conducted a series of workshops and trainings related to litigation of complex cases involving analysis, organization, and systemization of information. Ultimately, these trainings established connections between distinct cases and collaborative case development. PAVI exceeded targets in the implementation of these trainings, number of participants, and level of participant satisfaction. Participant feedback was overwhelmingly positive. SICOMP has become integral to daily justice system operations as well as internal monitoring and evaluation. Indicators demonstrated significant increases in crimes brought to trial and guilty verdicts issued. Guilty verdicts for crimes against life increased from 38% in 2010 to 51% in 2012 and there was a 4.7% increase in these crimes being brought to trial by PM prosecutors. The main achievement was a working methodology between the PM’s Analysis Unit and the Crimes against Life Prosecutors Unit.

Under this objective, PAVI was also able to make 24-hour courts less expansive to manage. The new less costly model was accepted and implemented by the Supreme Court in new legislation. One notable result from these courts was a 65% reduction in the use of provisional detention. Despite this drop, 24-hour courts have a limited mandate to resolve cases and their clearance rate is very low (22.6%). 

Objective #2: Mobilize the justice sector and civil society to reduce and preventviolence

PAVI developed the Protocol for Persons Involved as Witnesses in Criminal Trials, a uniform procedure meant to help personnel working with victims and establishing a standard for the safety of victims and witnesses throughout the life of a case. Some institutions missed targets, but overall the total number of people assisted rose over the course of the project. This demonstrates progress in extending services to a larger population of victims. Trends show that the Public Defender’s Office of Free Legal Aid was able to increase service provision while the Public Ministry Office of Victim Attention showed diminishing numbers of victims served. This is because the Public Defender’s Office provided more efficient service; so more individuals were likely to use them as a resource.

Under this objective, PAVI administered over $300,000 in sub grants to 12 organizations working in a variety of fields. The use of sub grants allowed the program to reach into areas that the main programmatic activity could not because it was not cost effective or efficient. 

Objective #3: Increase internal accountability and oversight in justice sectorinstitutions

This objective focused on PAVI’s promotion of an IIM, meant to focus on personnel. The IIM seeks to help develop an identity in the justice sector, develop professional skills and contribute to increasing efficacy, efficiency and morale or personnel. The model held a number of trainings that had high participant involvement and satisfaction. This model helped with staff bonding and teamwork development, which improved office communication. This objective also met all impact indicator targets. 

PAVI also designed an annual evaluation for 500 justices of the peace and 350 trial judges and a reorganization of the Judicial School. At the end of the project the Supreme Court still needed the will to implement the evaluation, but around 90% of the recommendations for the Judicial School were implemented.

Objective 4: Support high impact courts

PAVI remodeled the 14th floor of Guatemala’s Judiciary headquarters, which allowed for upgraded security measures and new technology. Since opening of high impact courts in 2009, they were able to get final verdicts in 83 cases. Security and technology upgrades helped with the Protocol for Persons Involved as Witnesses in Criminal Trails, because they were able to do things like remote video-conferencing testimony and other security measures. Despite these results, protocols around security and protection have only been partially implemented.

Objective 5: Strengthen justice sector capacity in Petén

The region of Petén is one of the most dangerous regions in Guatemala for a number of reasons. There was not a ton of progress, but PAVI was able to find some success through a sub-grant program to engage local civil society. Most headway involved crimes against the environment and crimes against cultural patrimony in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve. These contributions led to 112 environmental cases brought to court, with 80% guilty verdicts during the term of the program.


Overall, Guatemala faces a problematic local culture of civil service focusing on low capacity. There were also issues with collaborating with counterparts in the local government. 

In order to improve the investigation and prosecution of homicides and other crimes, the project faced various challenges. Mistreatment and inattention to victims and witness was rampant through police departments and prosecutors offices. Inadequate management of information resources was heavily prevalent. The departments involved in PAVI faced a lack if inter-institutional coordination, planning, and development. Departments also demonstrated a lack of compliance with legislation, specifically the Law Against Organized Crime. Guatemalan courts specifically displayed inadequate management, causing undue delays in case processing. 

The challenges above also contributed to difficulties in mobilizing the justice sector and civil society. Other challenges included inadequate governmental and NGO legal services for victims of violent crime, including domestic abuse. There was not only insufficient coordination among governmental agencies, but also insufficient coordination between government agencies and NGOs to provide attention to victims. Women and children are proven to be one of the most vulnerable populations in Guatemala and there are almost no violence prevention measures established for them. 

With rampant institutional weakness, increasing internal accountability and oversight in the Justice Sector was a daunting task. The Justice Sector faced its own challenges including a complete inexistence of enforcement of job descriptions, hierarchies, and responsibilities. The Justice Sector had no implementation of a performance evaluation system, making it virtually impossible for merit-based promotions or termination. Other weaknesses of the Justice Sector included a lack of consolidation of financial management, inadequate statistical analysis and reporting. 

The region of Petén is on of the main trafficking routes for drugs, money, arms, and persons. Local courts and prosecutors are not capable of handling the cases that occur and appear in courts due to institutional incapacity, lack of funds, and a constant transition of key prosecutors in office. Not including the high levels of illicit crime, the Guatemalan government declared a state of siege in 2012 introducing added tensions between the citizens, the municipality and the government of Guatemala

Lessons Learned 

It is important to hold trainings with regularity, integrating them into the work life of Guatemalan prosecutors. Trainings were well received and reached a wide range of participants from target sectors. They were instrumental in the success of the trainings that established connections between distinct cases and collaborative case development under Objective 1 as well as the establishment of the IIM under Objective 3. Future projects should continue to promote the implementation of the annual judicial evaluation system produced by PAVI. The Judiciary only needs about US $26,000 to promote and finance the system. The Judicial School should also be further supported in order to fully implement the PAVI reorganization plan.  

With regards to the court system, support to courts should continue to be coordinated through the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court, because this was shown to be most effective during PAVI. Next steps should focus on creating an effective hearing system, since 46% of hearings are postponed. One model to study to help make courts more effective is the “In flagrante delicto” court pilot program in Costa Rica, built to handle cases where the defendant is caught in the act of committing a crime. These courts remain open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and operate with several shifts of judges, prosecutors and public defenders. After the pilot in Costa Rica, about 50% of cases produced final judgments, 67% of which were resolved through expedited procedures. 

The Public Ministry Office of Victim Attention (OAV) is seriously lagging in their capacity of victims helped. The office lacks personnel that understand and are committed to provide legal aid to victims. This task is not seen as a priority compared to other prosecution tasks. In contrast, the Public Defender’s Office of Free Legal Aid (ALG) has provided services to more than 70,000 cases of victims since its inception in 2008. The approach that ALG has created in terms of helping victims should be replicated and applied to OAV. This can help increase the number of victims helped and contribute to an institutional change of dealing with victims of crimes. 

Civil society organizations believe that there is no political will to carry out reform based on democratic principles, they fear that future reforms will produce a militarized police force. Considering Guatemala’s past of Civil War and other countries in Latin America that have experienced militarized police forces this is a legitimate fear. Support for police reform should be focused on aiming to improve the investigation capabilities of the police force, not increase the autonomy or forcefulness of the police. The PM alone should be in charge of coordinating this effort, so that the establishment of a modern criminal investigation police is clear, organized and direction is coming from a single source. There could also be the development of a community police pilot project with a more integrated approach to citizen’s security. Training officers in particular community police methods is essential to reducing crime and violence and improving citizens’ perceptions and relationships with police.  Hopefully if reforms are transparent and have effective accountability mechanisms, civil society organizations will be more likely to express support.

It is important to recognize local communities as active participants in fighting crime and reducing violence. The small grants that were administered under Objective 2 were able to penetrate local communities in a unique manner and were most effective in Petén. To help with local participation, USAID might think about simplifying their procedures for civil society organizations to receive donations. It is often complicated for small grassroots organizations, which might have a better idea of local needs, to get ahold of these funds. Future projects could canvas for larger NGOs that qualify to administer USAID grants, which can in turn fund smaller organizations in more secluded regions. This will allow project funds to be more effective in hard to reach areas that need it most.  

Future programs could also focus on reducing the availability of firearms, because PAVI did not address this problem at all. The more guns in circulation, the easier it is for private citizens, or gang members to obtain them. Limiting firearms can be done through laws against gun trafficking, or through targeted enforcement to reduce the quantity of illegal firearms such as patrolling high crime neighborhoods to confiscate illegal guns. 


Work Cited 

Guatemala 2017 Crime & Safety Report. Accessed 8 Nov. 2017.

Guatemala: Project Against Violence and Impunity (PAVI). Tetra Tech DPK,

Program Against Violence and Impunity in Guatemala: Monitoring and Evaluation Final Report. July 2012,

USAID/Guatemala Final Performance Evaluation for The Project Against Violence and Impunity (PAVI). 20 Dec. 2012,