President Oscar Arias signed into law much-needed counter-terrorism and witness protection legislation Wednesday afternoon.
The Witness and Victim Protection Law provides for the creation of an Office for Attention to Crime Victims, through which witnesses and victims will be able to receive psychological support, home surveillance, relocation, a new job or private police escort, as the threat to the parties merits.
The Anti-Terrorism Law defines terrorism as a crime and allows authorities to prosecute for aiding and abetting terrorism, including financing terrorist groups, with penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
The law brings Costa Rica into compliance with its obligations under United Nations conventions, the regional information network Gafic, and notably The Egmont Group, an organization of 108 member countries that share intelligence on money laundering and terrorism. That group threatened to expel Costa Rica last year if an anti-terrorism bill weren’t passed, but later granted the country an extension through this month.
Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese, however, in his remarks before the signing, said these two laws were necessary first steps, but that a third measure, the bill against organized crime, will have to be passed into law before the country can effectively prosecute criminal groups in Costa Rica.
The much-touted organized crime bill was remanded to committee review in late January after the Legislative Assembly’s legal review board found numerous, substantive problems with the text.
“This (anti-terrorism) law provides the legal basis to prosecute, but without the law against organized crime in place, the (anti-terrorism) law is a dead letter,” said Dall’Anese. “This is the first step, nothing more.”
This is the first time Costa Rica has had a counter-terrorism law on the books. The lack of such a law ultimately stymied attempts to investigate alleged ties between Costa Ricans and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) last year. (TT, April 25, 2008).
Drug Institute Director Mauricio Boraschi last year put the onus on the Legislative Assembly, which by that time had had nine years to pass an anti-terrorism law.