Guatemala

Last updated: 14 February 2020

Update

Since March 2019, NGOs mobilized to prevent the Guatemalan Congress from enacting Bill 5257, which would have amended the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations for Development (NGO-D Law). In February 2020, NGOs reported that, without any prior notice, Congress approved the Bill (Decree 4-2020), although the president has not yet signed it.

While the official version of the approved Bill has not been made public, NGOs that have obtained a copy have confirmed that several of the most worrisome provisions identified in the initial version of the Bill are included in the Bill. Among other concerns are the following:

  • “[B]eneficiaries of NGOs’ work must be different persons from its members and workers.” This provision would seem to prohibit the formation and operation of self-help groups or mutual benefit organizations (e.g., a judges’ association).
  • Private information about NGOs and their members must be publicly available, without exception.
  • Prohibitions on depositing or maintaining funds anywhere except in a Guatemalan bank account under the NGO’s name restricts the right to receive and use resources and exacerbates NGOs’ vulnerability to “bank de-risking” measures.
  • Ambiguous and sweeping oversight provisions are grounds for severe sanctions, such as immediate dissolution for using foreign funding “to alter the public order” and automatic dissolution for failure to completely and correctly re-register with multiple oversight agencies within a six-month transition period.
  • Both domestic and international NGOs operating in Guatemala are subject to the same problematic requirements described above.

Introduction

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 Accords in 1996. The Truth Commission’s final report in 1999 recorded 42,000 human rights violations, 626 massacres and an estimated 200,000 killings during the civil war. In February 2016, a court convicted two former military officers on charges of crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery, marking the first time that a Guatemalan court had prosecuted a case of sexual violence related to the country’s civil war.

Today Guatemala faces enormous problems of poverty and economic opportunity, particularly in the rural areas. Organized crime and gang-related violence remain serious problems, prompting some people, including youth, to leave the country. Corruption within the justice system contributes to high levels of impunity, leaving indigenous peoples, women, and children, who feel the brunt of this violence, little opportunity for justice. Human rights defenders, journalists, rights activists, and public officials who seek to address crime and corruption often face threats and risk being targeted in attacks.

Guatemala’s system of government is republican, democratic, and representative. The exercise of power is divided it into three main organs: executive, legislative, and judicial. The 1985 Constitution provides for elections with universal suffrage for a one-term president and a unicameral congress. President Jimmy Morales of the National Convergence Front (FCN) party took office in January 2016 for a four-year term.

In 2015, thousands of Guatemalan citizens protested for 20 consecutive weekends, calling on President Otto Perez Molina to step down due to a variety of high-profile corruption scandals. The massive demonstrations not only led to the resignation of President Perez Molina, but also resulted in broad-based coalitions of civic and private actors, with NGOs, religious groups, students, chambers of commerce, businessmen, and others coming together in the fight against corruption. In January 2019, the family of President Morales was also being investigated by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). As a result, President Morales decided to unilaterally expel the anti-corruption commission from the country in the name of “national sovereignty”.

In February 2003, the Government of Guatemala enacted Decree 02-2003 Ley de Organizaciones No Gubernamentales para el Desarrollo (Law of Non-Governmental Organizations for Development (NGO Law)). The NGO Law regulates development NGOs and is aimed at encouraging NGO activities and strengthening civic participation. NGOs are thus recognized as a legal form alongside associations and foundations, as defined in the Civil Code.

There have been several important developments in the last year. General elections were held on June 16, 2019 to select a new president, deputies of the Central American parliament, and mayors. On August 11, 2019, in the second round of elections, Alejandro Giammattei of the “VAMOS” party was elected president. Giammattei’s party will have 17 deputies in the next legislature (11% of the legislature). The Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) party will have 52 deputies (33% of the legislature).

On January 14, 2020, Giammattei replaced the current president, Jimmy Morales, who, due to investigations against himself and his relatives, ignored the instrument that Guatemala signed with the United Nations to create the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and hastened the Commission’s demise.

Congress remains interested in approving initiatives that would erode human rights. For instance, since March 2019, NGOs mobilized to prevent the Guatemalan Congress from enacting Bill 5257, which would have amended the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations for Development (NGO-D Law). However, NGOs learned, without any prior notice, that Congress approved the Bill in February 2020 and the most worrisome provisions identified in the initial version of the Bill were included in the Bill.

Organizational FormsAssociations, Foundations, and NGOs
Registration Body1) Registration of Legal Entities -Registro de las Personas Jurídicas y Dirección de Asuntos Jurídicos (REPEJU).

2) Municipalities

Approximate NumberCivil associations (12,044), Foundations (789), Evangelical Churches (3,201), Non-Governmental Organizations (1,304), Civil Societies (253). [May 2019; Source: REPEJU]

 

Barriers to EntryAn 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 ActivitiesHuman rights defenders and environmental activists are subject to threats, harassment, stigmatization and violent attacks, and in some cases, assassination.
Barriers to Speech and/or AdvocacyIndividuals, 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 ContactNo significant legal barriers.
Barriers to ResourcesDue to the fight against corruption led by the International Commission against Corruption and Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Public Ministry, people who exercise power in Guatemala seek to “remove the water from the fish”, which involves discouraging organizations and donor countries to give resources to NGOs for advocacy activities and to instead allocate funds to functions such as “vaccination programs” or “voting boards for the Congress”.
Barriers to AssemblyThere is a notification procedure but it is not defined by law.
Law enforcement has engaged in the excessive use of force in response to peaceful demonstrations.
Potential use of “terrorism” laws to restrict assemblies.
Population15,460,732 (July 2017 est.)
CapitalGuatemala City
Type of GovernmentConstitutional Republic
Life Expectancy at BirthTotal population: 72.6 years (male: 70.6, years female: 74.7 years) (2017 est.)
Literacy RateTotal population: 81.5% (male: 87.4%, female: 76.3%) (2015 est.)
Religious GroupsRoman Catholic, Protestant, indigenous Mayan beliefs
Ethnic GroupsMestizo (mixed Amerindian-Spanish – in local Spanish called Ladino) and European 60.1%, Maya 39.3% (K’iche 11.3%, Q’eqchi 7.6%, Kaqchikel 7.4%, Mam 5.5%, other 7.5%), non-Maya, non-mestizo 0.15% (Xinca (indigenous, non-Maya), Garifuna (mixed West and Central African, Island Carib, and Arawak)), other 0.5% (2001 est.)
GDP per capita$8,200 (2017 est.)

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

Ranking BodyRankRanking Scale
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index127 (2018)1 – 187
World Bank Rule of Law Index13 (2017)100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index37 (2017)100 – 0
Transparency International143 (2017)1 – 176
Freedom House: Freedom in the WorldStatus: Partly Free
Political Rights: 4
Civil Liberties: 4 (2018)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index59 (2018)178 – 1

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International AgreementsRatification*Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)Yes1992
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)Yes2000
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)Yes1998
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)No —
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)Yes1983
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)Yes1982
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against WomenYes2002
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)Yes1990
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)Yes2003
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)Yes2009
Regional Treaties
American Convention on Human RightsYes2000

* 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

Since March 2019, NGOs mobilized to prevent the Guatemalan Congress from enacting Bill 5257, which would have amended the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations for Development (NGO-D Law). In February 2020, NGOs reported that, without any prior notice, Congress approved the Bill (Decree 4-2020), although the president has not yet signed it.

While the official version of the approved Bill has not been made public, NGOs that have obtained a copy have confirmed that several of the most worrisome provisions identified in the initial version of the Bill are included in the Bill. Among other concerns are the following:

  • “[B]eneficiaries of NGOs’ work must be different persons from its members and workers.” This provision would seem to prohibit the formation and operation of self-help groups or mutual benefit organizations (e.g., a judges’ association).
  • Private information about NGOs and their members must be publicly available, without exception.
  • Prohibitions on depositing or maintaining funds anywhere except in a Guatemalan bank account under the NGO’s name restricts the right to receive and use resources and exacerbates NGOs’ vulnerability to “bank de-risking” measures.
  • Ambiguous and sweeping oversight provisions are grounds for severe sanctions, such as immediate dissolution for using foreign funding “to alter the public order” and automatic dissolution for failure to completely and correctly re-register with multiple oversight agencies within a six-month transition period.
  • Both domestic and international NGOs operating in Guatemala are subject to the same problematic requirements described above.

It is also relevant to note that in a July 2019 speech, the president of the Congress stated, “We want to be told where the money comes from. 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? Why is it happening? Because there are many NGOs that have dedicated themselves to financing manifestation, highway strikes, invasions of land, invading hydroelectric or mining projects, which are opposed to economic development and I believe that as Guatemalans we have the right to know, when money comes from outside: where does it come from? How much does it come and what does it come for?”

We are unaware of 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. The Civil Code regulates associations (Article 15) and foundations (Article 20). Non-governmental organizations (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 civil society organizations, 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 2017 World Press Freedom Index: “Guatemala continues to be one of the Western Hemisphere’s most dangerous countries for the media.”

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.

In November 2017, amid protests demanding the resignation of President Jimmy Morales, the Congress began to draft a bill that would outlaw roadblocks as a form of “terrorism”. Based on media reports, the bill defines terrorism as “any type of typical conduct that …affects public buildings, roadways, communication outlets, or any type of transportation outlet, energy or transmission towers…or any other public service.” The bill has not been discussed yet in the Congress.

There have, however, 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 President Jimmy Morales’ presentation of the Governments’ Second Report.

UN Universal Periodic Review ReportsUPR (November 8, 2017)
Reports of UN Special RapporteursSubmission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Education
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country NotesUSIG: Guatemala

 

 

U.S. State DepartmentHuman Rights Report (2018)
Fragile States Index ReportsForeign Policy: Failed States Index
IMF Country ReportsGuatemala and the IMF
International Commission of JuristsCentral America Regional Office
Human Rights WatchWorld Report: Guatemala (2018)
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online LibraryGuatemala

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.

General News

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.