WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas



Central America’s Northern Triangle region is struggling with violence, corruption and impunity.

Scroll for the key findings or to find links to download the full reports under each area of progress.

Evaluating progress in Central America

As Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras struggle with high levels of violence and insecurity, systemic corruption, and widespread impunity, it’s critical that we find ways to assess how the policies and strategies being implemented in the region are contributing to the strengthening of the rule of law, improving transparency and accountability, and to reducing violence and insecurity. Using a comprehensive series of indicators, the Central American Monitor aims to measure progress and identify trends over time in eight key areas directly relevant to rule of law and security, thus providing critical information that can inform policies and strategic investments in the region.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Myrna Mack Foundation (FMM) of Guatemala, the University Institute for Public Opinion (Iudop) of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) of El Salvador, the University Institute on Democracy, Peace and Security (IUDPAS) of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) have developed a series of qualitative and quantitative indicators to evaluate progress in Central America in eight key areas.
Tackling Violence and Organized Crime
Areas of progress

National Law in Accordance with International Standards

Between 2014 and 2017, justice sector institutions made commendable efforts and Congress advanced legislative reforms. These marked important institutional reforms and helped to strengthen internal regulations and align them with international standards. The Public Prosecutor’s office made important advances, such as strengthening the Analysis Unit, the adoption of new divisions among prosecutors’ offices, and the use of wiretapping, among other tools, which contributed to dismantling numerous criminal structures at the national level.
Tackling Violence and Organized Crime
Areas of progress

Investigative capacity and prosecution of criminal networks and organized crime

The Public Prosecutor’s Office has various prosecutors’ offices and specialized units to address the investigation and criminal prosecution of violence and organized crime activities. Among these specialized prosecutors’ offices are the offices against organized crime, drug-related crimes, money or asset laundering, extortion, human trafficking, kidnapping, crimes against life, and femicide, among others. The Public Prosecutor’s Office denied information requests regarding the number of personnel assigned to these offices. Financial data shows that, of these prosecutors’ offices and special units that provided budget information, they received 8.4 percent of the total budget allocated to the Public Prosecutor’s Office during the period analyzed. Additionally, there was a trend of an annual increase in the allocated budget, with the exception of the special prosecutors’ offices on organized crime and drug-related crimes, which suffered a reduction in 2015, and the office on money laundering, whose budget also decreased in 2015 and 2017.

In order to better fulfill its functions, the Judiciary implemented specialized criminal courts, such as high risk courts and those that hear of crimes of femicide, violence against women, and crimes of sexual violence, exploitation and human trafficking. These high risk courts and tribunals have been key in fighting violence and organized crime, yet they still lack adequate space and personnel. In the case of femicide and violence against women, the femicide courts and tribunals exist in 50 percent of the country’s departments. However, women from rural regions often do not benefit from these courts’ protection and services as they either don’t have access to the specialized jurisdiction or, in some departments, these bodies are made up entirely of men.  
Tackling Violence and Organized Crime
Areas of progress

Effectiveness of Investigations of Criminal Networks and Organized Crime

Changes made within the Public Prosecutor’s Office to improve prosecutorial efficiency made way for important advances in strategic criminal prosecution, increasing the operational capacity of investigation processes. Thus, between 2015 and 2016, the office was able to dismantle 93 criminal structures with a total of 716 members.

The gap between the reality of the phenomenon of violence against women and convictions remains quite large. In 2017, at least 57 out of 100,000 women were subjected to femicide or other forms of violence against women. In that same year, of the men indicted by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, only 3 percent were convicted at trial.

The same gap is evident between the cases filed by special prosecutors’ offices and the number that results in convictions or acquittals. It is important to note that not all of the cases that are filed manage to be prosecuted and lead to a sentence in the same year. In other cases, due to various circumstances, cases may be filed or dismissed or resolved by other means that do not imply reaching an oral or public hearing. At other times, the complexity of the crime results in a prolonged investigation. Nevertheless, the advances of the Public Prosecutor’s Office are closely linked to strengthening the Judiciary, which also affects the prompt decisions of the cases that are admitted.


The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Myrna Mack Foundation (FMM) of Guatemala, the University Institute for Public Opinion (Iudop) of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) of El Salvador, the University Institute on Democracy, Peace and Security (IUDPAS) of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) have developed a series of indicators to assess the progress in Central America in eight key areas. That progress will reflect both the commitment of Central American governments and the effectiveness of international assistance. The indicators include a combination of quantitative data and qualitative analysis in order to gain a more in-depth understanding of the changes taking place in each country. Data sources include official documents and statistics, surveys, interviews, and reviews of existing laws and regulations that will be systematically compiled.

WOLA, the Myrna Mack Foundation, Iudop, and IUDPAS developed these indicators in a months-long process that included review of international standards, consultation with experts, and consensus among all partners about the key issues to address.
Our goal is to provide an instrument that can help identify the areas of progress and opportunities for improvement shortfalls for of the policies and strategies being implemented on the ground in a form that is useful for policymakers, donors, academics, and the public. At the same time, we hope to provide analysis that can contribute to the evaluation of trends over time both within and between the countries of the Northern Triangle.

Strengthening the Capacity and Independence of Justice Systems

Capacity of the Justice System: Number of criminal justice officials, geographical coverage, workload, effectiveness, and public trust.

Internal Independence: Existence and implementation of a public, merit-based selection process free from external influence, a results-based evaluation system, and an effective disciplinary system.

External Independence: Size of budget allocated for the judicial sector and implementation of national and international protection measures for justice officials.

Cooperation with Anti-Impunity Commissions

Political Will and Level of Collaboration: Commitment of the state to collaborate and enable the work of the CICIG in Guatemala and the MACCIH in Honduras, demonstrated by the progress of emblematic cases, the approval of legislative reforms, and support for domestic counterparts working with these commissions.

Combating Corruption

Level of Public Trust: Degree of public trust in state institutions involved in efforts to prevent, identify, investigate, and punish corruption.

Scope and Implementation of Legislation to Combat Corruption: Classification of new crimes in criminal codes and reforms of existing anti-corruption laws to adhere to international standards.

Advancements in Criminal Investigations: Number of corruption cases filed, prosecuted, and resolved, as well as the progress made in emblematic cases.

Functioning of Oversight Bodies: Existence and capacity of external oversight bodies or agencies to combat corruption.

Tackling Violence and Organized Crime

Capacity Building: Existence and functioning of specialized anti-organized crime units, application of scientific and technical investigative methods, and functioning of judges or tribunals dedicated to the prosecution of organized crime

Advances in Criminal Investigations: The number of organized crime-related cases filed, prosecuted, and resolved, as well as the progress made in emblematic cases.

Crime Reduction: Convictions for homicides, extortion, and against criminal networks, as well as a reduction in serious and violent crimes.

Strengthening Civilian Police Forces

Functioning of Police Career Systems: Existence and effectiveness of police recruitment and promotion mechanisms, training processes, and disciplinary systems, as well as the structure of police bodies.

Allocation and Use of Budgetary Resources: Allocation and effective use of public funds and percentage designated for the wellbeing of members of the civilian police forces.

Community Relations: Public trust in the police, police-community relations, and relations with indigenous authorities.

Limiting the Role of the Armed Forces in Public Security Activities

Development and Implementation of a Concrete Plan: The design and implementation of a publicly accessible and verifiable plan with goals, timelines, activities, and clearly established indicators; repeal of legal norms authorizing participation of armed forces in public security, and access to information regarding payroll and assigned resources.

Conduct of Military Forces: Complaints, accusations, and sentences regarding human rights violations perpetrated by members of the armed forces and the level of public trust in the armed forces.

Protecting Human Rights

Investigation and Conviction of Human Rights Violations: Existence and functioning of specialized investigative units, number of complaints, prosecutions, and convictions, handling of emblematic cases, and degree of security forces’ collaboration with investigations.

Protection Mechanisms: Structure and functioning of domestic protection mechanisms and implementation of international protection measures for human rights defenders who have been victims of attacks or threats.

Hate Speech: Analysis of attacks and smear or defamation campaigns against human rights defenders.

Improving Transparency

Scope and Implementation of the ‘Law of Access to Public Information’: Type of information categorized as restricted or of limited access, period of classification, availability and quality of statistics related to security and justice, information requests granted and denied, and related fees.

Budget and Spending Transparency: Access to public information on budget allocations and spending on security, justice, and defense.

Disclosure of Public Officials’ Statement of Assets: Level of official compliance with disclosure norms, and the degree to which such statements are made available to the public.


The Central America Monitor is based on the premise that accurate, objective, and complete data and information are necessary to reduce the high levels of violence and insecurity, and establish rule of law and governance in a democratic state. This will allow efforts to move beyond abstract discussions of reform to specific measures of change.

The Monitor is based on a series of more than 100 quantitative and qualitative indicators that allow a more profound level of analysis of the successes or setbacks made in eight key areas in each of the three countries. More than a comprehensive list, the indicators seek to identify a way to examine and assess the level of progress of the three countries in strengthening the rule of law and democratic institutions. The indicators seek to identify the main challenges in each of the selected areas and examine how institutions are (or are not) being strengthened over time. The Monitor uses information from different sources, including official documents and statistics, surveys, interviews, information from emblematic cases, and analysis of existing laws and regulations.

The indicators were developed over several months in a process that included an extensive review of international standards and consultation with experts. The eight areas analyzed by the Monitor include:

  • 1. Strengthening the Capacity and Independence of Justice Systems
  • 2. Cooperation with Anti-Impunity Commissions
  • 3. Combating Corruption
  • 4. Tackling Violence and Organized Crime
  • 5. Strengthening Civilian Police Forces
  • 6. Limiting the Role of the Armed Forces in Public Security Activities
  • 7. Protecting Human Rights
  • 8. Improving Transparency