For more than two decades, the ICJ has advocated for respect for the right to access to justice; to strengthen the administration of justice and the independence of the judiciary in Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica).
Since 2003, through country missions, reports and advocacy, the ICJ has focused on the judiciary in Honduras and Guatemala, and it has sent high-level missions to Nicaragua (2006), Honduras (2009), Guatemala (2010-2012) and El Salvador (2011).
In 2007, ICJ established a Regional Office lead by Ramón Cadena Rámila (Director of the ICJ Office in Central America). ICJ’s work started to be focused in the democratization of justice and undertook a visit to all the countries in the sub-region, to develop contacts with local civil societies, judges and associations of judges, in order to identify potential partners for its work.
Through its regional presence the ICJ has deepened and expanded its work in the region, identifying two distinct but interrelated areas:
1. Democratization of justice:
Although the separation of powers is enshrined in the constitutions of each target countries, judicial independence remains weak and in need of significant judicial support, technical capacity building, strengthening associations and reforming laws and policies governing the judicial sector (judicial career, independence of the judiciary, protection of judges, and other fields).
2. Access to justice of vulnerable populations:
Although the principle of equality is constitutionally guaranteed in each of the target countries in Central America, equality before the law in practice is weak, and the right to a fair trial is often violated. Serious accountability gaps throughout the region directly obstruct access to justice of victims of present and past human rights violations.
In both areas, ICJ trains judges in issues like independence of the judiciary, fight against impunity and other similar fields. A special emphasis has been given in favor of the abolition of death penalty in Guatemala.
The promotion of International Human Rights Law is used as a tool to reinforce the above mentioned areas. International observation missions related to both areas have been launched in the region. For example, a mission was launched to observe the elections of magistrates of the Supreme Courts; another was implemented to observe the human rights situation in the Department of Petén in Guatemala.
ICJ’s strategy for Central America has been defined over the last period focusing on addressing the main elements that lie at the centre of weak rule of law and justice systems undermined by their lack of independence, on one side and the main aspects that affect the right to access to justice of vulnerable populations, on the other.
The litigation capacity of lawyers, local and national organizations is being reinforced through different workshops and strategic litigation seminars.