Guatemala

Last updated: 1 September 2021

Update

Decree 4-2020 was approved on February 11, 2020 and reformed the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations for Development (NGO-D Law), or Decree 2-2003. On the same day, several organizations filed amparo actions to prevent the decree from entering into force and, on March 2, 2020, the Constitutional Court granted provisional protection, thereby suspending the validity of the decree.

On May 12, 2021, a newly constituted Constitutional Court revoked the provisional suspension that the previous Court had ordered. Subsequently, however, eight constitutional challenges were filed against both Decree 4-2020 and the NGO-D Law. On July 15, 2021, the Constitutional Court ordered the provisional suspension of several clauses of Decree 4-2020, including some terms like “immediate cancelation,” which means that CSOs cannot be canceled without due process.

In addition, on August 2, 2021, the implementing regulation for the NGO-D Law was issued through Governmental Agreement 157-2021 of the President of Guatemala. The regulation mandates that foreign organizations must register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The regulation does not address the process for canceling organizations; instead, the regulation states that situations not provided for in the regulation will be resolved by the Ministry of the Interior, thereby giving the Ministry broad discretionary power regarding cancellation.

Introduction

Guatemala’s system of government is republican, democratic and representative. Government power is divided between three main branches: the executive, legislative, and judicial. The 1985 Constitution provides for the election by universal suffrage of a one-term president and a unicameral congress. President Alejandro Eduardo Giammattei Falla of the Vamos por una Guatemala Diferente (VAMOS) party took office on January 14, 2020 for a four-year term.

Guatemala continues to deal with the aftermath of a civil war that lasted more than 36 years, and formally ended with the signing of the Peace Agreements in 1996. The final report of the Truth Commission in 1999 recorded 42,000 human rights violations, 626 massacres, and some 200,000 killings during the civil war. In February 2016, a court convicted two former service members on charges of crimes against humanity for sexual violence and domestic sexual slavery. This was the first time a Guatemalan court prosecuted a case of sexual violence related to the country’s civil war.

In February 2003, the Government enacted Decree 02-2003, or the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations for Development. The Law regulates development NGOs and aims to promote the activities of NGOs and strengthen civic participation. NGOs are recognized as a legal form, together with associations and foundations, as defined in the Civil Code. Decree 4-2020, which reforms the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations for Development, is still awaiting a final ruling from the Constitutional Court.

Guatemala faces enormous health problems, including famine and poverty, as well as a lack of economic and labor opportunities, particularly in rural areas. Organized crime and gang-related violence also remain serious problems, with some people, and especially young people, leaving the country and migrating to other countries in search of opportunities. Corruption within the justice system further contributes to high levels of impunity, leaving indigenous peoples, women, and children with few opportunities for justice. Human rights defenders, journalists, and public officials seeking to address crime and corruption often face threats and physical attacks.

Organizational Forms 1) Civil associations, Foundations, Evangelical Churches, Non-Governmental Organizations, Civil Societies.

2) Neighborhood Associations, Community Associations for Development, Associations of the Communities of the Indigenous Peoples, Organizations of the Municipal Councils of Development (COMUDES), Community Development Councils (COCODES), Educational Committees (COEDUCAS), The School Boards, The Educational Councils

Registration Body 1) Registration of Legal Entities (REPEJU) Dependent on the Ministry of Government.

2) Municipalities

Approximate Number Civil associations (12,044), Foundations (789), Evangelical Churches (3,201), Non-Governmental Organizations (1,304), Civil Societies (253). [May 2019; Source: REPEJU]
Barriers to Entry An NGO is required by law to have a minimum of 7 founding members

Limits on the number of foreigners who can be members of NGOs.

Barriers to Activities Human rights defenders and environmental activists are subject to threats, harassment, stigmatization and violent attacks, and in some cases, assassination.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy Individuals, activists, journalists and organizations that engage in public advocacy on politically sensitive or controversial issues are subject to threats, harassment and violent attacks.
Barriers to International Contact No significant legal barriers.
Barriers to Resources Organizations face different difficulties, especially those that carry out monitoring and reporting work on issues such as corruption, because they are attacked publicly and on social media. In addition, the state discourages the execution of projects by such organizations. Laws on money laundering and terrorist financing are applied indiscriminately without a risk-based approach.
Barriers to Assembly Law enforcement has engaged in the excessive use of force in response to peaceful demonstrations. There is also the potential use of “terrorism” laws to restrict assemblies.
Population 17.422.821 (2021 est.)
Capital Guatemala City
Type of Government Representative democratic republic
Life Expectancy at Birth Total population: 72.63 years (male: 70.59 years, female: 74.77 years) (2021 est.)
Literacy Rate Total population: 81.5% (male: 87.4%, female: 76.3%) (2015 est.)
Religious Groups Roman Catholic, Protestant, indigenous Mayan beliefs
Ethnic Groups Mestizo (mixed Amerindian-Spanish – in local Spanish called Ladino) and European 56%, Maya 41.7%, Xinca (indigenous, non-Maya) 1.8%, Garifuna (mixed West and Central African, Island Carib, and Arawak) .1%, foreign .2% (2018 est.)
GDP per capita $8,637 (2019 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency.

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 127 (2020) 1 – 189
World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 101 (2020) 1 – 28
Transparency International 149 (2020) 1 – 180
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 58 (2020) 178 – 1
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Partly Free
Political Rights: 21
Civil Liberties: 31 (2020)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 40
1 – 60

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1992
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) Yes 2000
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1998
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) No
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1983
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1982
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Yes 2002
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1990
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) Yes 2003
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 2009
Regional Treaties
American Convention on Human Rights Yes 2000

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala, 1985, regulates the right of assembly and demonstration, the right of association, the freedom of expression of thought, and the pre-eminence of international law, among others.

Article 33: Right of Assembly and Demonstration [Manifestación]
The right of peaceful assembly without weapons is recognized. The rights of assembly and of public demonstration may not be restricted, diminished, or restrained; and the law shall regulate them with the sole purpose of guaranteeing the public order. Religious processions outside of churches are permitted and regulated by law. For the exercise of these rights, prior notification by the organizers before the competent authority will suffice.

Article 34: Right of Association
The right of free association is recognized. No one is obligated to associate [with] or to form part of mutual-interest [autodefensa] or similar groups or associations. The case of professional associations is excepted.

Article 35: Freedom of Expression of Thought
The expression of thought through any means of dissemination, without censorship or prior permission, is free. This constitutional right may not be restrained by [the] law or by any governmental provision. [The person] who by using the freedom should fail to respect private life or morals, will be held responsible in accordance with the law. Whoever may feel offended has the right of publication of his [or her] defense, clarifications, and rectifications.

The publications which contain denunciations, criticisms, or accusations [imputaciones] against functionaries or public employees for actions conducted in the performance of their duties[,] do not constitute a crime or a fault.

The functionaries and [the] public employees can request a tribunal of honor, composed in the form determined by the law, to declare that the publication that affects them is based on inaccurate facts or that the charges made against them are unfounded. A court ruling [fallo] that vindicates the offended, must be published in the same media of social communication where the accusation appeared.

The activity of the means of social communication is of public interest and in no case may they be expropriated. They may not be closed, attached [embargados], interfered with, confiscated, or seized [decomisados], nor may the enterprises, plants, equipment, machinery, and gear [enseres] of the means of communication be interrupted in their functioning, for faults or crimes in the expression of thought.

The access to the sources of information is free and no authority may limit this right.

The authorization, limitation or cancellation of the concessions granted by the State to persons may not be used as elements of pressure or duress [coacción] to limit the exercise of the freedom of expression of thought.
A jury will take exclusive cognizance of the crimes or faults to which this Article refers.

Everything that relates to this constitutional right is regulated in the Constitutional Law for the Expression of Thought [Ley Constitucional de Emisión del Pensamiento].

The owners of the means of social communication must provide socio-economic coverage to their reporters, through the contracting of life insurance.

Article 44: [The] Rights Inherent to the Human Person
The rights and [the] guarantees granted by the Constitution do not exclude others that, even though they are not expressly mentioned in it, are inherent to the human person.

The social interest prevails over the individual [particular] interest.

The laws and the government provisions or [those of] any other order that reduce, restrict, or distort the rights guaranteed by the Constitution are void ipso jure.

Article 45: Action Against Offenders [Infractores] and Legitimacy of Resistance
The action to prosecute the violators of human rights is public and may be exercised through a simple denunciation, without any guarantee or formality whatsoever. The resistance of the people for the protection and defense of the rights and guarantees granted in the Constitution is legitimate.

Article 46: Preeminence of [the] International Law
The general principle that within matters of human rights, the treaties and agreements approved and ratified by Guatemala, have preeminence over the internal law is established.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Relevant national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include:

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. In a July 2019 speech, the president of Congress stated: “We want to be told where the money is coming from. We need to understand that every day a lot of money goes into Guatemala to fund NGOs, and there are very good NGOs that do amazing work in health, education, who give vaccine programs, there are doctors who come to donate their time through NGOs, but there are also another number of NGOs that do not do what they should do, who get into politics, that have gender agendas (LGTBQ), political agendas, economic agendas and for many people this has become a kind of business and I think that as Guatemalans we have the right to know where the money comes from, which countries are giving it, what organization is giving it, how much is it giving? Why is it happening? Because there are many NGOs that have been dedicated to financing demonstrations, road strikes, land invasions, invasions of hydro projects.”

2. Initiative 5125 to Approve the Law for People with Disabilities was presented to the plenary session of Congress on August 4, 2016 and was approved in a third debate on February 7, 2017. It is, however, yet to be approved article-by-article and in a final draft. Nevertheless, Initiative 5125 is expected to be passed and signed into law in the near future. Further, there are various CSOs that are lobbying for it to be enacted into law.

We are unaware of other pending legislative/regulatory initiatives affecting NGOs. Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org

Organizational Forms

There are three predominant organizational forms for civil society organizations (CSOs), including associations, foundations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Civil Code regulates associations (Article 15) and foundations (Article 20). NGOs are regulated by the Law of Non-Governmental Organizations for Development (NGO-D Law) (Ley de Organizaciones No Gubernamentales para el Desarrollo). In addition, there are several other legal entity forms including cooperatives, development councils, trade unions, political parties, corporations and anonymous societies – all of which are regulated by specific laws.

Article 15 of the Civil Code defines associations as follows:

Associations for not-for-profit purposes, which are established to promote, exercise and protect trade union interests, political, economic, religious, social, cultural, professional or any other interest, whose constitution was duly approved by the respective authority. The trusts and committees for recreational works, utility or social benefit created or authorized by the corresponding authority are also considered as associations …

Article 20 of the Civil Code addresses foundations as follows:

… foundations will be constituted by public deed or by testament. In the founding instrument, the dedicated assets and the purpose to be used and the form of administration must be indicated. The respective authority will approve the functioning of the foundation if it is not contrary to the law, and in the absence of sufficient provisions, will dictate the necessary rules to comply with the will of the founder. The Public Prosecutor’s Office must monitor that the assets of the foundations are used according to their destination.

Decree 02-2003, the Law of Non-Governmental Organizations for Development (NGO-D Law), governs the formation and functioning of NGOs and defines them as follows:

Non-Governmental Organizations or NGOs are those constituted with cultural, educational, sports interests, with social service, assistance, charity, promotional and economic and social development purposes, without profit motive. (Article 2, NGO-D Law)

Non-profit entities established abroad can validate their incorporation in the Guatemalan legal system. (Article 12, NGO-D Law)

Public Benefit Status

The Tax Law (Decree 10-2012, Article 11) grants tax exemptions to organizations that pursue purposes of “welfare, charity, beneficence, education and instruction, science, literature, arts, political, professional, unions, sports, religious, culture or development of indigenous communities and those of culture.” The exemption applies to income dedicated to these purposes and applies only if the organization does not distribute profits or assets among its members, either directly or indirectly. According to the same provision, income generated through economic activities, such as commerce, agriculture, financing, or services, is not exempted and must be declared in the annual declaration of taxes.

To be certified as “tax-exempt”, organizations must (1) have a constitution notarized as a public deed; (2) be registered with the Registry of Legal Entities; (3) be registered with the Department of Tax Administration (Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria or SAT); (4) have at least the minimum number of members that the particular law requires for the particular type of CSO; and (5) have a not-for-profit purpose.

To receive tax deductible donations, an association, foundation or other eligible entity must be duly constituted and registered as a tax-exempt organization with the Department of Tax Administration (SAT). Once the organization is registered with the SAT, it receives a “Resolution” which confirms its tax-exempt status. Local partners inform ICNL that the Resolution is generally granted within one week. (Tax Law Regulations, Article 31)

The Value Added Tax (Ley del Impuesto al Valor Agregado, Decree 27-92) designates the following organizations as exempted: associations; foundations; educational, cultural, social, and religious entities that are legally registered. The law also provides that payments for membership fees to associations, social, professional, cultural, scientific, educational and sports institutions, as well as professional associations and political parties, are exempted from taxation. (Articles 7, 9 and 10)

Barriers to Entry

The Registry of Legal Entities (REPEJU) is responsible for registering associations, foundations, NGOs, and other categories of CSOs, according to Articles 438-440 of the Civil Code.

In 2011, the REPEJU issued the Regulations for the Registration of Legal Persons. The Regulations were intended to give greater institutional and administrative clarity to the registration procedures. Indeed, this goal has largely been met, resulting in in streamlined registration procedures. For example, the process of registration normally takes about three weeks.

For other forms of civil society organizations – e.g., cooperatives, development councils, trade unions, political parties, corporations, and anonymous societies – there are different public entities that apply different registration procedures. Registration fees vary according to the registration authority. The registration of any civil society organization is accomplished by a public deed and before a notary. As a general rule, registration authorities have no discretion to deny registration.

The minimum number of founders is established by each of the particular laws that regulate each organizational form. These are generally not burdensome requirements. For example, an NGO is required by law to have a minimum of 7 founding members, while associations need one member more than the total number of members on its Board of Directors. A foundation may be formed by at least two natural or legal persons. [By contrast, trade unions and cooperatives each must be established by at least 20 founding members.]

The NGO-D Law places limits on the number of foreigners who can be members of NGOs. Specifically, foreigners may make up no more than 25% of NGO membership, provided that they are residents of the country. (NGO-D Law, Article 7) Associations are subject to no such limitation.

According to Article 12 of the NGO-D Law, international NGOs are registered in the REPEJU. To apply for registration, international NGOs must submit the following documents to the Ministry of the Interior:

  • Certification of authenticity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the founding documents of the NGO in the country of origin;
  • Certification of authenticity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the ordinary act in which the NGO records its decision to open an office in Guatemala. In the same act, the NGO representative must be appointed to carry out the registration process.

Based on this documentation, the Ministry of the Interior issues a Ministerial Resolution through which the legal status of the NGO in Guatemala is recognized. REPEJU then proceeds to register the Ministerial Resolution.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Under the Constitution and law of Guatemala, the operating environment is open and enabling. The Constitution establishes that every individual or group can do anything that the law does not prohibit. Under this principle all activities of CSOs that are in accord with Guatemalan law are allowed.

Supervision

The government is not authorized to supervise the work of CSOs, except for those that manage public funds; CSOs receiving public funds are directly supervised by the Comptroller General of Accounts. By contrast, associations are supervised by their own members.

Termination

Under the NGO-D Law, an NGO may be dissolved for the following reasons:

  • When it cannot continue with the purposes indicated in its statutes;
  • By agreement of the extraordinary general meeting with the vote of at least sixty percent (60%) of its members;
  • By legal provision or resolution of the competent court.
    (Article 19, NGO-D Law)

There is no provision in the law that allows for the dissolution of a CSO for arbitrary reasons and any dissolution can only be determined by a court.

Harassment / Attacks

Despite the supportive Constitution and laws, in practice, human rights defenders and environmental activists are subject to threats, harassment, stigmatization and violent attacks, and in some cases, assassination.

An Amnesty International report on Guatemala notes: “The Guatemalan NGO Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala said that defenders working on rights related to land, territory and the environment faced the highest number of attacks … In addition, human rights defenders were constantly subjected to smear campaigns to stigmatize and discredit them and their work in an attempt to force them to stop their legitimate activities.”

To condemn the human rights violations against traditional and indigenous communities, a coalition of communities and civil society organizations participated in a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in March 2017.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

Article 35 of Guatemala’s Constitution protects the “Freedom of expression of thought”, addressing several aspects of freedom of expression in considerable detail. [See “Constitutional Framework” above.]

There are no legal restrictions per se, but in practice, individuals, activists and organizations that engage in public advocacy on politically sensitive or controversial issues are subject to threats, harassment and violent attacks, as described above. The same is true for journalists and reporters, with threats coming from public officials and criminal organizations. Consequently, journalists have acknowledged practicing self-censorship. According to Reporters Without Borders in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Guatemala was among the least free countries for the media. Its rank was 116 out of 180 countries in press freedom (with 180 being the least free).

In one case in 2020, a journalist was captured and beaten by the police for allegedly being drunk in the hours after the COVID-19 curfew. A court declared that the journalist’s detainment lacked merit and ordered the release of the journalist and an investigation of the police who captured him. It turned out that the journalist had published an article days before his detainment about an investigation into a high-profile government official. As demonstrated by this case, the climate for journalists in Guatemala continues to be hostile

Barriers to International Contact

There is no restriction on the ability of CSOs to contact and cooperate with colleagues from civil society, companies and government sectors inside or outside the country. There is no restriction on participation in networks or Internet access imposed by law or by the government.

Barriers to Resources

The law of Guatemala contains no restrictions or special rules for domestic civil society organizations to receive foreign or international financing.

NGOs can access public funds through direct public contracting. Specifically, both the national government (e.g., Ministries) and municipal governments are authorized to carry out programs and projects through NGOs and legally constituted associations. According to the General Budget Law, the government (whether acting through ministries, secretariats, social funds, trusts, decentralized entities or public enterprises) can only carry out their projects through direct administration or by contract. This requirement seeks to guard against the lack of accountability in government spending and allegations of embezzlement of funds by NGOs linked to political parties and congressmen.

The Congress has the power to designate direct contributions to NGOs through the Organic Law of the General Budget of Income and Expenditures of the State approved annually. Each year the Finance and Treasury Commission of Congress meets with NGOs and foundations to learn about their needs and plans and determine which organizations will receive direct budgetary contributions. There are, however, no predefined criteria for determining the NGOs that will receive direct contributions. In 2016, it was estimated that a total of 72 NGOs and foundations could receive public funds through direct budgetary contributions.

Public funds received by NGOs, foundations and legally constituted associations will be subject to the oversight of the Comptroller General of Accounts.

Due to the fight against corruption led by the International Commission against Corruption and Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Public Ministry, the people who exercise power in Guatemala have discouraged organizations and donor countries from giving resources to NGOs for advocacy activities and instead advised them to allocate funds to functions such as “vaccination programs” or “voting boards for the congress”.

Barriers to Assembly

The right of assembly and demonstration is recognized in Article 33 of the Constitution of Guatemala as follows:

Article 33: Right of Assembly and Demonstration [Manifestación]
The right of peaceful assembly and without weapons is recognized. The rights of assembly and of public demonstration may not be restricted, diminished, or restrained; and the law shall regulate them with the sole purpose of guaranteeing the public order. The religious manifestations outside of temples are permitted and are regulated by the law. For the exercise of these right a prior notification by the organizers before the competent authority will suffice.

Based on the constitutional precept, the organizers of assemblies and demonstrations provide advance notification of the assembly or demonstration to the departmental government (e.g., the governor of the provincial department or the local police). Although the notification procedure is not defined by law or regulation, organizers, in practice, provide the following information:

  • The name of the organizer(s), along with identification document, address and phone number;
  • The date and time (start to finish) of the planned assembly or demonstration;
  • The location or planned route of the assembly or demonstration, including the streets to be used or passed.

Meetings and assemblies can be held in any public or private space. The law does not prevent or impede people from exchanging information, planning or communicating about protests within the country, including with foreigners and online.

In 2014, the Law for the Circulation by Roads Free of any type of Obstacles (Ley para la Circulación por Carreteras Libre de cualquier Tipo de Obstáculos) was enacted. The 2014 Law authorizes the General Directorate of Roads to request the National Police’s help to remove any obstacle from the roads. (Article 8) The Law also establishes fines of from 1,000 to 5,000 quetzales for any person who blocks the roads. (Article 9)

In September 2016, the government issued a 15-day emergency decree that gave it the power to dissolve groups, meetings, protests, and media coverage that “contributed to or incited” disruption of public order. Following critical reactions from civil society, the president of congress, and the human rights ombudsman, the decree was rescinded two days later. The NGO Center for Legal Action on Environment (CALAS) and the National Unity of Hope party filed a case claiming the executive branch had violated the constitution. The Supreme Court dismissed the charges on November 2; CALAS planned to appeal the decision.

There have been cases where law enforcement has engaged in the excessive use of force in response to peaceful demonstrations. For example, in January 2018, the Police and Military Officers used tear gas to attack Guatemalan protesters while waiting for then President Jimmy Morales’ presentation of the Governments’ Second Report.

Barriers to Public Participation

There have been cases where law enforcement has engaged in the excessive use of force in response to peaceful demonstrations. For example, in January 2018, the Police and Military Officers used tear gas to attack Guatemalan protesters while waiting for then President Jimmy Morales’ presentation of the Governments’ Second Report.

Guatemala’s Constitution provides several important safeguards for public participation:

  • Article 30 states that “acts of administration are public” and “interested parties are entitled to obtain at any time reports, copies, reproductions, and certifications that they request,” including of “proceedings that they may wish to consult.”
  • Article 98 further states that “communities are entitled and have the obligation to actively participate in the planning, execution, and evaluation of health programs.”
  • Article 280 provides that “reforms will not enter into effect unless they are ratified through the popular consultation referred to in Article 173 of this Constitution.”
  • Article 173, in turn, states: “The political decisions of special significance [transcendencia] must be submitted to a [popular] consultation procedure involving all citizens. The consultation will be called by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal at the initiative of the President of the Republic or of the Congress of the Republic, which will determine precisely the question or [the] questions to be submitted to the citizens. The Constitutional Electoral Law [Ley Constitucional Electoral] shall regulate what is relative to this institution.”

Beyond the Constitution, the Law on Urban and Rural Development Councils, whose purpose is to involve all citizens in development, is the most important law affecting public participation. Article 26 of the Law provides for government consultations with indigenous peoples (Maya, Xinca and Garífuna), but this can only occur if a specific law regulating the consultation of indigenous peoples is enacted, which has not yet happened. Moreover, the government has done little to raise awareness about the Law and opportunities for participation.

Initiative 5125 to Approve the Law for People with Disabilities was presented to Congress on August 4, 2016 and approved on February 7, 2017. Still, Initiative 5125 must undergo two more legislative steps, including an article-by-article review and final approval. As of September 2020, Initiative 5125 is expected to be enacted and signed into law in the near future. Moreover, various CSOs are lobbying for it to be enacted into law, which exemplifies how CSOs are often involved in advocacy for enhancing the protection of marginalized groups.

At the same time, there are also restrictive initiatives emanating from Guatemala’s Congress that undermine freedom of association and public participation. Decree 4-2020 to Reform the Law of Non-Governmental Organizations for Development has already been approved and signed by the president. It is not in force as of September 2020, however, because CSOs filed an amparo action, or “constitutional protection lawsuit,” that prevented it from coming into effect. Article 13 of Decree 4-2020 would restrict the implementation of CSO activities if a CSO uses funding to “disrupt public order,” which is often interpreted as any activity that opposes government policies.

Persecution of Civil Society Activism Concerning the Mining Sector

In Guatemala, CSOs and activists seeking to protect indigenous people’s territories and the environment are often criminally prosecuted, especially when they oppose the mining sector. For example, in July 2020, President Alejandro Giammattei ordered a 30-day “state of siege” in five municipalities in the northeastern provinces of Izabal and Alta Verapaz, which are part of a major overland drug smuggling route stretching from Honduras to Guatemala’s border with Mexico. The measures, which temporarily restricted freedom of movement and the right to gather and protest in those municipalities, while allowing the government to detain and interrogate residents, were justified as a means of establishing order amid the presence of armed criminal groups. However, CSOs and other observers were witnessing increasing conflict between state mining interests and indigenous communities in Izabal and Alta Verapaz over land rights concerning a controversial nickel mine in El Estor operated by the Guatemalan Nickel Company (Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel). Following frequent protests and legal challenges aimed at curbing its operations, the government restrictions on movement effectively quashed any possibility of local protests and opened the door for more land appropriation and evictions.

In addition, in 2019, a Canadian mining firm apologized after reaching an agreement with demonstrators who were shot and wounded while protesting the firm’s gold and silver mine. The demonstrators had originally assembled at the mine in southeastern Guatemala in April 2013 to protest against the “lack of community consultation on the project” when the firm’s private security shot at demonstrators in an effort to break up the gathering.

In another case in 2019, a Guatemalan court absolved Abelino Chub Caal of charges of aggravated usurpation, arson, and illicit association. This ruling terminated Caal’s pretrial detention, which had lasted for over two years, because there was no evidence he committed the alleged crimes. Chal advocates for dignified housing for all citizens, local development, and environmentally sustainable agriculture and accompanies communities in Sierra Santa Cruz, Izabal, whose land, environmental, and cultural rights are threatened by mining interests.

 

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports UPR (November 8, 2017)
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Education
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes USIG: Guatemala

 

 

U.S. State Department Human Rights Report (2020)
Fragile States Index Reports Foreign Policy: Failed States Index
IMF Country Reports Guatemala and the IMF
International Commission of Jurists Central America Regional Office
Human Rights Watch World Report: Guatemala (2020)
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Guatemala

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

Key Events

1. On April 14, 2021, a new Constitutional Court commenced its term. The magistrates who took office are Gloria Porras, Nester Vásquez, Dina Ochoa, Roberto Molina Barreto, Leyla Lemus. Substitutes: Rony López, Claudia Paniagua, Luis Rosales, Walter Jimenez and Juan José Samayoa.

2. In March 2021, CSOs presented to the Constitutional Court amicus curiae on the protection and maintaining of the Law on NGO-Ds.

3. In March 2020, the government declared a “state of public calamity” in response to the COVID-19 health emergency and, under the decree, introduced restrictions on the freedom of movement and the right to peaceful assembly. Each month Congress extended the state of public calamity until October 2020. Two tropical storms then struck, causing the government to issue another state of calamity in November and December 2020.

Vaccination in Guatemala began on February 26, 2021 with 5,000 doses donated by the Israeli government. Days later, 200,000 doses were received from the Indian government, also by donation. On March 11, 81,600 doses purchased from the COVAX mechanism were received. The Guatemalan government’s vaccination plan is divided into 4 phases, the first one for health personnel who care for patients with COVID-19. Phase 2 includes adults over 70 years old first and then adults from 50 to 69 years old. The third phase is for workers from the national security sector, municipalities, and education and justice sectors. The last phase is for adults from 40 to 49 years old and after that, adults from 18 to 39 years old. The quantity of vaccines purchased is deficient, however, and the Guatemalan government indicated it will buy 16 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine for 8 million people. This may be too few vaccine still due to the number of people living in Guatemala (around 16 million).

For additional details, see ICNL-ECNL’s COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker entry for Guatemala.

General News

Guatemala’s Top Court Backs Controversial NGO Law (May 2021)
Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned an earlier ruling that stopped controversial legislation targeting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from becoming law, in a move likely to alarm rights groups and the United States. The new law will give the government the right to pry into the affairs of and even dissolve non-governmental organizations (NGOs), drawing criticism from Washington for being “onerous.”

Attack on Top Court Threatens Constitutional Crisis (July 2020)
Guatemalan congressmen and political operators — two of whom face criminal charges — are undermining the country’s top court, prompting a US senator to warn of a constitutional crisis and repercussions for aid. In a June 30 statement, US Sen. Patrick Leahy urged President Alejandro Giammattei and Attorney General María Consuelo Porras to oppose the “corrupt scheme,” adding that if allowed to succeed, assistance from the United States would be affected. The senator’s rebuke followed an attempt to strip immunity from four sitting Constitutional Court judges, potentially jeopardizing the court’s independence.

New Law Threatens NGOs’ Work (February 2020)
On 11 February the Guatemalan Congress enacted Decree 4-2020 (formerly known as Bill 5257). This initiative imposes undue restrictions, controls and sanctions on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). This poses serious risks for the rights to freedom of expression and association in the country and threatens the work of human rights defenders and NGOs.

Government takes advantage of the state of siege to attack Human Rights (September 2019) (Spanish)
After the murder of three members of the Army in El Estor, Izabal, in a confusing event that could be linked to drug trafficking, the [president] Jimmy Morales has decreed a state of siege in Izabal, Zacapa, El Progreso, Alta and Baja Verapaz. In his speech, Jimmy Morales linked the members with criminal groups. Morales also ordered the capture and confiscation of weapons “that these pseudo peasants and pseudo human rights defenders and peasants illegally use.”

President of the Congress, Alvaro Arzú Jr, talks about the NGO law (June 2019)
According to President of the Congress, Alvaro Arzú Jr, “We have to understand that there is a lot of money coming into Guatemala every day to fund NGOs, and there are very good NGOs that do incredible jobs in health, education, that give vaccines programs, there are doctors who come to donate their time through NGOs, but there are also another number of NGOs that do not do what they should do, that get into politics, that have gender agendas (LGTBQ), political agendas, economics agendas and for many people this has become a kind of business and I think as Guatemalans we have the right to know where the money comes from, what countries are giving it, what organization is giving it, how much is it giving? ”

UN Special Rapporteur Freedom of Association Clement Voule crticized Bill 5527 (March 2019)
Clement Voule has written on Twitter that, “I am deeply concerned about proposed amendments to NGO law in Guatemala (bill 5257) which contains restrictive provisions imposing burdensome registration process,strict control over NGO activities& funding that could lead to immediate cancellation of their status.”

European Parliament denounces violations of human rights and shows support for CICIG and NGO defenders (March 2019)
The European Parliament echoes the numerous complaints issued by national and international civil society organizations in a resolution adopted on March 14, 2019, in which it regrets that the Guatemalan Government continues to violate the rule of law. In its resolution, Parliament denounces the increase in attacks against Human Rights Defenders, and raises concerns about the proposed law in Congress on non-governmental organizations for development and recalls the importance of creating and maintaining a safe and favorable environment for NGOs.

Termination of CICIG agreement is latest blow to the fight against impunity (January 2019)
In reaction to the decision of the Guatemalan government to put an end to the agreement with the United Nations on the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG by its initials in Spanish), Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, said: “This decision from the government of Guatemala is the latest blow to the fight against impunity and clearly shows its worrying lack of willingness to work towards an independent justice system that guarantees the human rights of all people in Guatemala, including the right to justice and adequate reparations for victims of human rights violations.”

IACHR Expresses Alarm over the Increase in Murders of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (October 2018)
On June 27, 2018, the IACHR and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Guatemala condemned the murders of 10 human rights campaigners belonging to indigenous and peasant organizations that took place in the first half of the year. The two organizations also urged the state of Guatemala to make progress on adopting and implementing public policies to protect human rights defenders. Since then, the IACHR has learned of at least six further murders of human rights defenders in Guatemala.

The Congress denounces Acción Ciudadana (June 2018) (Spanish)
The Congress has filed a criminal complaint against the director of the organization Acción Ciudadana (AC), Manfredo Marroquín, for the possible commission of the crimes of ideological falsehoods, the use of forged documents, and a special case of fraud. Marroquin has indicated that he will defend himself. He also said that “It is sad to see how Congress uses the resources of taxpayers to persecute those who they consider their enemies, instead of being concerned about the national agenda.”

The UN asks Guatemala to investigate the murders of three human rights defenders (May 2018) (Spanish)
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for the investigation of crimes committed against three activists in Guatemala who worked with indigenous and peasants’ rights organizations. The first, Luis Marroquín, of the Peasant Development Committee, was murdered on May 9 in the town of San Luis Jilotepeque. The following day, José Can Xol, leader of the community of the Campesino Development Committee of the Altiplano, was killed in the community of Choctún Basilá in the municipality of Cobán. Finally, on May 13, Mateo Chamán Paau, member of the same Peasants’ Committee, was killed in the community of San Juan Tres Ríos, also located in Cobán.

Mayan Community Protests Illegal Miners (February 2018)
The Mayan Q’eqchi communities of El Estor, Izabal, have filed an appeal against the Energy and Mining Ministry (MEM) of Guatemala, after they illegally granted a mining license in their territory, causing significant environmental problems. One of the organizations promoting the lawsuit is the Artisanal Fishermen’s Guild (GPA) of El Estor, which has been struggling to stop the mine since it restarted operations. The guild decided to organize a peaceful protest by closing the road leading to the mine after, which the government decided to unilaterally abandon the negotiation table. Then, Guatemala’s Ministry of Interior ordered the riot police to unblock the road, resulting in a violent day of police repression and the death of Carlos Maaz.

The foregoing information was collected by ICNL’s Civic Freedom Monitor partner in Guatemala.