Report Highlights How Impunity Fuels Lynchings in CentAm

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A recent news report discusses the increasing prominence of lynchings, illegal detentions by mobs and other instances of popular justice in some parts of Central America, a phenomenon spurred by ineffective judicial systems and high levels of impunity.

In Guatemala alone, angry mobs killed 295 suspected criminals and injured another 1,704 between 2004 and November 2013, reported Spanish newspaper El Pais. In its annual report (pdf), the nation’s human rights body identified an “exponential increase” in these types of attacks from an average of 4.5 per month in 2004 to 42.44 per month in 2013.

Although the situation in Guatemala is particularly extreme, recent cases in Honduras and Costa Rica have also drawn attention to a growing problem in these countries. One brutal case occurred in Honduras in 2012, when an angry mob trapped and stoned to death a 48-year-old man accused of stabbing and killing a woman he was attempting to rape.

InSight Crime Analysis

In addition to being two of the most violent countries in Central America, Guatemala and Honduras have some of the highest levels of impunity in the region. The many failures of the justice systems in these countries are likely a key factor in the rising number of mob attacks, with frustrated citizens increasingly taking matters into their own hands.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Vigilantes

Although Guatemala has made significant progress against impunity in recent years, thanks in part to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), 70 percent of the crimes committed in the country continue to go unpunished. In its 2014 World Report (pdf), Human Rights Watch found that intimidation and corruption of judges and other officials, as well as an ineffective witness protection program, continue to stunt the country’s judicial system.

Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world in 2013 and an impunity level above 90 percent. Between 2007 and 2012, police arrested less than half of the people with outstanding warrants hanging over them.

The phenomenon of popular justice has also been seen, in a more formalized sense, in Mexico, particularly in the country’s southwest Pacific state of Michoacan, where vigilante groups sprang up with the stated purpose of combating the Knights Templar criminal group in the face of government ineffectiveness.

However, as seen in Michoacan — where vigilantes have been accused of killing a mayor and of drug ties — and with Colombia’s paramilitaries, popular justice can easily get out of hand, and can be used to serve criminal interests.

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