A report released last week by the United Nations Development Program provided an alarming look at the complete incapacity of the criminal justice system in El Salvador to investigate, prosecute and punish murderers.
The study looked at a significant subset of the homicides recorded by the authorities in 2005. Of the 1,020 homicides studied, only 145 (14.2%) reached the court system. Even more alarmingly, only 39 (3.8%) resulted in someone actually being punished for the crime. In other words, 96.1% of the murders in the study went unpunished.
The study's authors did not equivocate in placing blame for this abysmal record:
An important percentage of the homicides remain unpunished for lack of will or capacity for the investigation, while each crime left abundant evidence that could have been processed to determine the authors of the crimes.
One does not perceive a sincere interest in improving and modernizing the techniques of criminal investigation. The country has had a high level of homicides for many years and the conditions for investigations continue to be meager.
There exists a lack of coordination between police and prosecutors in the investigation of crime: planning, strategies, actions, etc. In reality, the prosecutors do not assume functional direction in any meaningful manner and the police do not comply with their instructions. This produces negative results in the clarifying matters, prompts a standstill in enquiries, and later the inquiry is forgotten.
The report prompted an angry response from the government. Minister of Security, René Figueroa, accused the study's authors of "ideological biases" in performing the study and using outdated (2005) data.
Figueroa can complaion about the study, but the facts are there to be verified. If you are a criminal in El Salvador, the fear of being caught and punished is not a fear which will prevent you from committing a murder. 96% of the time, you won't be caught and punished.