Specialized Justice System Protects the Maya Biosphere Reserve

By Catherine Withrow | August 7, 2019

Checchi and Company Consulting’s USAID-funded Security and Justice Sector Reform Project (SJSRP) supports justice sector institutional strengthening and reform efforts in Guatemala. Among other activities, Checchi advisors help improve the investigation and prosecution of corruption and organized crime; support legal reform initiatives; improve efficiency and transparency in justice sector processes; implement IT systems to modernize court administration; and support the strengthening and expansion of specialized courts, such as 24 hour courts and courts specializing in high-profile corruption cases. In addition, the SJSRP will support the creation of a specialized prosecutor’s office to identify, investigate and prosecute networks involved in the trafficking of migrants.

SJSRP staff with the director of ARCAS, a wildlife rescue center.

The Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR), located in Petén, is an area characterized by immense biodiversity. However, it is at great risk as a result of illicit human activity, particularly trafficking of native plants and animals, appropriation of protected land, and narcotrafficking. Further complicating the situation is the area’s distance from security and justice institutions in the capital, and a lack of resources to report, investigate, and prosecute environmental crimes that are damaging the reserve’s unique resources. 

In response to this, the SJSRP provided assistance to local and national counterparts with three objectives: 1) Strengthen institutional capacity for environmental crime investigation and prosecution; 2) Develop collaborations among justice sector institutions, civil society, and MBR administrators; and 3) Improve public awareness of crimes against the environment and Guatemala’s cultural heritage.

With SJSRP support, the Public Ministry, Supreme Court and other institutions implemented a specialized system to investigate and prosecute environmental and cultural heritage crimes. This effort yielded tangible results, with the number of successful criminal prosecutions for environmental and related crimes tripling over previous years. 

Moreover, the SJSRP supported alliances among Guatemalan security and justice sector institutions, international partners, universities, MBR administrators and local civil society organizations, providing a sustainable base for this specialized justice system. Francisco Castañeda Moya, Director of the Center for Conservationist Studies at the University of San Carlos of Guatemala, affirmed that, “This project was key to building interinstitutional relationships that are of great benefit to the project and beyond: the bonds that were established promote environmental justice efforts that began in Petén and continue throughout the country.”

Members of the National Council for Protected Areas (CONAP) participate in an informational visit to the MBR.

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