The Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, which will start next month, will be made up of international judges, prosecutors and legal experts who will work with a specially selected group of Honduran professionals to investigate cases of corruption.
MACCIH by its Spanish initials (Misión de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras) has a mandate of four years and $32 million from the regional organization. Led by the former Peruvian prime minister Juan Jiménez, it will have powers to independently investigate politicians, judges and members of the security forces.
Honduras has one of the world's highest homicide rates and an extremely high rate of impunity.
The group's creation was spurred by massive protests beginning in May of last year, demanding accountability and an international, independent prosecutorial team, after news of embezzlement of $300 million from its social security system. (See the post for June 8, 2015.) Some estimate that the the fraud killed thousands as a result of medical shortages and tattered the public health system. President Juan Orlando Hernández was forced to admit that some of the stolen funds went to his 2013 election campaign.
Demonstrators specifically demanded a group like the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), the U.N. backed group which has investigated key cases despite a weak judicial system, including a customs kick-back scheme that put the former Guatemalan president and vice president in jail.
The MACCIH follows the CICIG model in many aspects: it will have full access to official documents and public records to help with the investigation and prosecution of cases involving corrupt networks. It will also select the cases in which it will cooperate, explains the Wall Street Journal. (Full OAS press release.)
The MACCIH could also take over anti-corruption purges in the police and military, according to El Heraldo.
And it will answer directly to OAS president Luis Almagro, who committed himself to "guaranteeing" that the MACCIH "will not be another formality." In an op-ed in El País he promised personal periodic involvement in a venture that "could transform the country in the correct direction."
But the Honduran group will not match the power of the CICIG in Guatemala. The MACCIH can't act as co-plaintiff before local courts and promote disciplinary processes against government or judicial officials who refuse to collaborate. And it cannot carry out its own investigations, according to the WSJ.
While the Guatemalan commission operates independently from the prosecutor's office and the judicial system (although they cooperate), the Honduran mission with work under the prosecutor and Supreme Court, which are close to the president, reports the Associated Press.
The protest group wants the MACCIH to tackle the social security scandal first. But they are concerned the new mission won't have enough teeth, according to the AP.
And the MACCIH could face additional complications, notes InSight Crime, such limited and poorly organized public information. Additionally, Honduran elites involved in corruption may well have taken note of the Guatemalan example already and taken measures to avoid similar high-profile anti-corruption takedowns.
Yet to have such a body at all is already a success for the protest movement, according to Omar Rivera, the head of Alianza por la Paz y la Justicia, a local nonprofit government-accountability group quoted in the Wall Street Journal. "The step president Hernández took was unthinkable just six months ago," he said.
And the MACCIH is stronger than Hernández's initial proposal, noted Eric Olson, of the Woodrow Wilson Center, in the Guardian's piece. "While MACCIH still isn’t perfect, it has a tremendous opportunity to make an impact in Honduras like CICIG in Guatemala. It's incumbent on its jurists to go wherever the evidence leads them, even if it takes them to the highest levels of the Honduras government."
The Guardian also quotes Steven Dudley, co-director of InSight Crime, who questioned the utility of an international group at this time. "There are many, many signs that the [Honduran] attorney general’s office is doing its job better all the time. This is the time to support that office, not undermine it with outside entities."
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