Police Reform: Accord for a Firm and Lasting Peace

Agreement on the Strengthening of Civilian Power and the Role of the Armed Forces in Democratic Society (Mexico City, 19 September 1996)

IV. Executive Branch: B. Public security

National Civil Police

21. The protection of life and the security of the citizens, the maintenance of public order, the prevention and investigation of crime and the swift and transparent administration of justice cannot be guaranteed without the appropriate structuring of the public security forces. The design of a new model and its implementation are fundamental aspects of the strengthening of civilian power.

22. Accordingly, the restructuring of the country’s existing police forces into a single National Civil Police, which would be responsible for public order and internal security, is necessary and cannot be delayed. This new police force should be professional and under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior. To that end, the Government undertakes to adopt, when it falls within its purview to do so, and to promote to the Congress of the Republic, when it falls within the purview of that body to do so, the following measures:

Constitutional reforms

23. The reform of the Constitution shall establish the functions and main characteristics of the police force as follows:

"The National Civil Police shall be a professional and hierarchical institution. It shall be the only armed police force competent at the national level whose function is to protect and guarantee the exercise of the rights and freedoms of the individual; prevent, investigate and combat crime; and maintain public order and internal security. It shall be under the direction of the civil authorities and shall maintain absolute respect for human rights in carrying out its functions.

"The law shall govern the requirements and procedures for admission to the police profession, as well as promotions, advancement, transfers, disciplinary action against officers and employees in the profession and other questions related to the functioning of the National Civil Police."

Legal reforms

24. This includes submission of a bill on security and the police, which would govern the functioning of the police system in Guatemala in accordance with constitutional reforms and the provisions contained in this Agreement.

25. The issue of a new Act on Public Order shall be promoted, consistent with democratic principles and the strengthening of civilian power. Any excess in the application of the new Act shall be duly punished. The limitations established by law in the interest of maintaining public order shall in no case permit excesses that would violate the general enjoyment of rights nor shall they empower the authorities to restrict rights other than those described in article 138 of the Constitution.

Organization

26. The police shall be organized as follows:

(a) A single police force shall be established under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior;

(b) It shall be hierarchically structured with a chain of command and duly established responsibilities;

(c) The multi-ethnic and multicultural character of Guatemala shall be taken into account in the recruitment, selection, training and deployment of police personnel;

(d) The necessary specialized departments shall be established to carry out its work, including the control of drug trafficking and smuggling, tax and customs control, arms registry and control, information and criminal investigation, conservation of the cultural heritage and the environment, border security, transit and road safety.

Police profession

27. The police profession shall be established in accordance with the following criteria:

(a) All members of the new police force shall receive training at the Police Academy, where they will be given extensive professional preparation and imbued with a culture of peace, respect for human rights and democracy, and compliance with the law;

(b) Appropriate regulations shall be established to govern recruitment and personnel administration policies. Professional police officers shall be required to provide their services within the institution for a minimum of two years;

(c) Members of the police force shall receive decent wages commensurate with their functions and an adequate benefits package.

The Police Academy

28. The Police Academy shall oversee admission to the police profession, and advancement and specialization within it. It must guarantee objectivity and equality of opportunity in its selection of candidates and the suitability of the recruits for the performance of their duties as professional police officers.

29. The Police Academy shall train the new police personnel as officers, inspectors, commanders and chiefs and retrain the current personnel, providing them with sufficient resources to carry out their assignments. Basic police training shall last a minimum of six months.

Functioning

30. The Government undertakes to promote a police and public security restructuring plan based on this Agreement, to which end the support of the international community and MINUGUA will be requested, taking into consideration international standards in this area. This restructuring plan shall be given the necessary resources for the national deployment of professional personnel, taking into account all the specialities of a modern national civil police force, and shall provide, inter alia, for the following steps to be taken:

(a) By late 1999, a new National Civil Police force, comprised of at least 20,000 members, shall be functioning throughout the national territory, under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior, in order to fulfill the commitments outlined herein and the specific tasks assigned to them;

(b) In particular, the capacities of the police in the area of information and criminal investigation shall be strengthened, in order to enable them to collaborate effectively in crime control and the swift and effective administration of justice with emphasis on coordination between the National Civil Police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the judiciary;

(c) Cooperation between the National Civil Police and the municipal police forces shall be strengthened within the context of their respective powers;

(d) A transition procedure shall be established for the implementation of the provisions of paragraph (a) above in order to ensure that the graduates of the Academy are a positive element in the National Civil Police as a whole;

(e) The communities shall participate, through their representatives, in promoting the police profession, proposing candidates who meet the requirements and supporting the officers who will be responsible for public security at the local level;

(f) By the year 2000, the Government undertakes to increase its expenditure on public security as a percentage of the gross domestic product by 50 per cent over the amount expended in 1995.

International cooperation

31. The Parties urge the international community to grant such technical and financial cooperation as is required for the immediate implementation of all measures that will lead to the modernization and professionalization of the public security system in Guatemala.

Private security companies

32. The Government undertakes to sponsor, in the Guatemalan Congress, a bill to regulate the functioning and scope of such companies in order to monitor their operations and the professionalism of their personnel and ensure, in particular, that the companies and their employees remain within the appropriate sphere of operation, under the strict control of the National Civil Police.

Ownership and bearing of arms

33. In accordance with the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights, and in order to combat the proliferation of firearms in the hands of individuals and the lack of control of their acquisition and use, the Government of Guatemala undertakes to sponsor amendments to the Arms and Munitions Act so as to:

(a) Restrict the owning and bearing of weapons by individuals, in accordance with the provisions of article 38 of the Constitution;

(b) Confer responsibility in the matter to the Ministry of the Interior. The question of the owning and bearing of offensive weapons will be taken up in very exceptional, justified cases, and for that the opinion of the Ministry of Defence will be required.

34. In accordance with this Act, the Government undertakes to:

(a) Enforce the system of registration of weapons in circulation and identification of their owners;

(b) Transfer the registers which are currently deposited in the Arms and Munitions Control Department of the Ministry of Defence to the Ministry of the Interior, with verification by MINUGUA, in a process which will be completed by the end of 1997.

Agreement on Constitutional Reforms and the Electoral Regime (Stockholm, 7 December 1996)

I. Constitutional Reforms

B. Constitutional reforms included in the Agreement on the Strengthening of Civilian Power and on the Role of the Armed Forces in a Democratic Society

National Civil Police

19. Sponsor in the Congress of the Republic the inclusion of an article in the Constitution defining the functions and main characteristics of the National Civil Police as follows:

"The National Civil Police is a professional and hierarchical institution. It is the only armed police force with national jurisdiction and its function is to protect and safeguard the exercise of the rights and freedoms of individuals; to prevent, investigate and combat crime; and to maintain public order and internal security. It shall be under the control of civilian authorities and shall show strict respect for human rights in carrying out its functions.

"The law shall regulate the requirements and procedures for admission to the police profession, as well as promotions, advancement, transfers, disciplinary action against police officials and employees and other questions related to the functioning of the National Civil Police."

Implementation History

1997

Minimum Implementation

An act of Congress established the new National Civil Police (PNC) on 4 February.1 With high crime rates, profound corruption in the old National Police and low capacity in the new PNC, the Government sought options to used its armed forces for public safety purposes, which would constitute a violation of the spirit of the agreements.2

  • 1. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/51/936), June 30, 1997.
  • 2. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/52/757), February 4, 1998.
1998

Intermediate Implementation

The Government graduated and deployed the first tranche of new PNC recruits, and re-trained over 6,000 former members of the National Police and Treasury Guard. However, the addition of all the new PNC officers was not enough to establish law and order throughout the country.3 Many human rights violations were committed by members of the National Police and the PNC, while both institutions lacked effective measures to prevent abuses or punish officers who use excessive force.4

  • 3. Ibid.; “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/53/421), September 28, 1998.
  • 4. “Ninth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/53/853), March 10, 1999.
1999

Intermediate Implementation

MINUGUA confirmed the involvement of PNC officers in extrajudicial killings, torture and degrading punishment, other excessive uses of force, arbitrary arrests, and the obstruction of justice during investigations of these crimes. The Office of Professional Accountability in the PNC lacked the human and material resources to monitor and purify the entire police force.5

  • 5. “Tenth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/54/688), December 21, 1999.
2000

Intermediate Implementation

The Government regressed on its commitment to build up the civilian police force. Congress issued Decree No. 8-2000 on 21 March, authorizing Military Police to assist the PNC. After police failed to control crowds during protests over transportation fare hikes in Guatemala City in May, the PNC director was dismissed and Congress issued Decree No. 40-2000, authorizing the army to collaborate with civil security forces to fight crime. The President, through Government Agreement 87-2000, sanctioned the role of the army in maintaining security at penal institutions. Members of the PNC were implicated in many human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions.6

  • 6. “Eleventh Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/55/174), July 26, 2000.
2001

Intermediate Implementation

MINUGUA confirmed the involvement of the PNC in extrajudicial executions and attempted executions.7 

Spending for public security exceeded the set targets, but not enough of it was dedicated to improving the infrastructure and equipment of the PNC. In the beginning of the year, the PNC grew to 18,314 members dispersed throughout most of the country. There were six district offices, twenty-seven departmental stations, 127 stations, 343 substations and eight mobile units. The quality of deployment was still lacking, and only 10% of personnel were women and only 14% indigenous persons.8 The PNC met its target of 20,000 members in December 2001.9

  • 7. “Twelfth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/56/273), August 8, 2001.
  • 8. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/55/973), June 1, 2001.
  • 9. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/56/1003), July 10, 2002.
2002

Intermediate Implementation

Despite the full deployment of the PNC, the public security situation deteriorated.10 The mixing of police and military forces increased.11

  • 10. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/56/1003), July 10, 2002.
  • 11. “Thirteenth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/57/336), August 22, 2002.
2003

Intermediate Implementation

The PNC weakened while crime was on the rise. The Government still relied on the Armed Forces to manage some aspects of public security. After consulting with civil society organizations, the Government created the Advisory Council on Security in February 2003.12 

MINUGUA called the poor performance of the PNC “one of the most serious setbacks in the peace process.” UN observers verified dozens of cases of extrajudicial killings and torture at the hands of PNC officers each year.13

  • 12. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/58/267), August 30, 2003.
  • 13. “Fourteenth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/58/566), November 10, 2003, Paragraph 25.
2004

Intermediate Implementation

The PNC continued on a downward spiral as the effects of recruiting most of its members from the former police structures became evident. With endemic corruption, constant turnover in leadership, poor funding and many cases of police abuses, the public did not accept the PNC as a legitimate guarantor of public security.14 In response, the Government established the Commission on Transparency and Corruption.15

  • 14. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/59/307), August 30, 2004.
  • 15. “Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala,” United Nations Economic and Social Council (E/CN.4/2006/10/Add.1), February 1, 2006.
2005

Intermediate Implementation

The PNC had 20,186 active-duty officers, or 1.58 officers for every 1,000 persons in the population, which was far below the international average. Following the recommendations of the Commission for Historical Clarification, the PNC dismissed 763 officers implicated in human rights violations.16 The police force remained one of the most inefficient and corrupt institution in Guatemala.17

  • 16. “Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala,” United Nations Economic and Social Council (E/CN.4/2006/10/Add.1), February 1, 2006.
  • 17. "2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Guatemala," State Department, 2006, accessed May 23, 2012, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2005/61729.htm.
2006

Intermediate Implementation

There were some efforts to reform the police force in Guatemala including increasing the strength of the police force. Nevertheless, inefficiency and corruption were rampant in the police force which is one of the contributing factors to higher crime rates.18