Guatemala’s system of government is republican, democratic and representative. Governmental power is divided into three main branches: executive, legislative and judicial. The 1985 Constitution provides for the election by universal suffrage of a single-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.
The country continues to grapple 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 1999 Truth Commission’s final report 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 domestic sexual violence and slavery. This was the first time a Guatemalan court prosecuted a case of sexual violence related to the country’s civil war.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) in Guatemala have suffered repression since the early 1960s when the civil war began. As part of the anti-Communist policy, CSOs were seen as an internal enemy. The state dismantled the CSO sector and employed terrorism and hate speech against the members and associates of CSOs. Murders, disappearances, torture also occurred.
Guatemala endured much of the 20th century under dictatorships. With the signing of the Peace Accords and a new constitution, presidential elections have sinve been held. The CSO sector was strengthened. And with the arrival of the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), there was a serious fight against clandestine security forces in Guatemala. Corruption was also tackled and former President Otto Pérez Molina was even criminally prosecuted. When the CICIG investigations reached the family of former president Jimmy Morales, he requested to dissolve the CICIG and from that time until now, it has been possible to observe the cooptation of state agencies. This has been intended to guarantee impunity in cases of corruption and transitional justice.
In February 2003, the government enacted Decree 02-2003, or the Non-Governmental Organizations for Development Law (NGO-D Law). The Law regulates development NGOs and aims to promote NGO activities and strengthen citizen participation. NGOs are recognized as a legal form, along with associations and foundations, as defined in the Civil Code. Proposed reforms to the NGO-D Law, however, have been approved that could result in the deregistration of more than 1,000 organizations.
Guatemala faces enormous health problems, including famine and poverty, as well as a lack of economic and employment opportunities, especially in rural areas. Organized crime and gang-related violence also remain serious problems, causing some people, especially young people, to leave the country and migrate to other countries in search of opportunities. Corruption in the justice system also 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.
Guatemala is currently in an electoral season in which the next leaders will be chosen. 23 presidential candidates are currently registered, but the general elections have been tarnished by scandals that have created discontent and concern from civil society. This is because of the arbitrary denial of the right for candidates to participate in elections to become mayors, deputies and even the president if they are not aligned with the interests of the ruling party or are part of opposition groups.
|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.
|Approximate Number||Civil associations (10,817), Foundations (499), Evangelical Churches (3,201), Non-Governmental Organizations (1,412), Civil Societies (253) [Source: REPEJU, February 2022]|
|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||17,109,746 (2022 est.)|
|Type of Government||Representative, democratic, and a 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||$5,026 (2021 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||127 (2022)||1 – 189|
|World Justice Project Rule of Law Index||110 (2022)||1 – 139|
|Transparency International||150 (2023)||1 – 180|
|Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index||64 (2023)||179 – 1|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Partly Free
Political Rights: 20
Civil Liberties: 29 (2023)
|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|
|American Convention on Human Rights||Yes||2000|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
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
- Constitución de la República de Guatemala
- Código Civil
- Código Penal
- CODIGO PROCESAL CIVIL Y MERCANTIL
- DECRETO 119-96 *
- DECRETO NUMERO 1575
- Código Procesal Penal
- DECRETO NUMERO 12-2002
- DECRETO NUMERO 1-86
- LEY DE MIGRACIÓN
- LEY DEL ORGANISMO JUDICIAL
- Ley de Orden Público
- LEY ORGANICA DE LA CONTRALORIA GENERAL DE CUENTAS
- LEY DE PROBIDAD Y RESPONSABILIDADES DE FUNCIONARIOS Y EMPLEADOS
- Ley de Emisión del Pensamiento
- CÓDIGO DE SALUD
- LEY ELECTORAL Y DE PARTIDOS POLÍTICOS
- LEY DEL ARBITRIO DE ORNATO MUNICIPAL
- DECRETO NUMERO 22-2008
- DECRETO NÚMERO 32-2006
- ACUERDO NUMERO 001-2007
- DECRETO NUMERO 40-94
- Decreto 26-92 Ley del ISR Actualizada hasta el decreto 04-2012 – Vigente hasta 31/12/2012
- Ley del IVA Actualizada hasta el decreto 04-2012 – Ley no vigente
- Decreto 27-92 Ley del IVA actualizada hasta decreto 10-2012 – Vigente desde 05/03/2012
- Código Tributario
- Decreto 10-2012 Ley de Aduanas, Ley ISR, Ley Primera Matricula
- Decreto 4-2012 Ley Antievasión II
- Reglamento de la Ley del IVA
- Reglamenteo de la Ley del ISR
- Fortalecimiento de la administración tributaria Decreto 20-2006
- Código de Comercio
- DECRETO NÚMERO 37-92
- ISO DECRETO NÚMERO 73-2008
- Ley de Tabacos y sus Productos
- ACUERDO GUBERNATIVO No. 425-2006
- ACUERDO GUBERNATIVO NÚMERO 205-2004
- DECRETO NÚMERO 21-04
- ACUERDO GUBERNATIVO NÚMERO 120-2002
- DECRETO NUMERO 09-2002
- DECRETO NÚMERO 79-2000
- DECRETO NÚMERO 44-2000
- DECRETO NÚMERO 1- 98
- DECRETO NÚMERO 26-95
- ACUERDO GUBERNATIVO NÚMERO 111-95
- DECRETO NÚMERO 70-94
- CUERDO GUBERNATIVO NÚMERO 663-2005
- DECRETO NUMERO 38-92
- ACUERDO GUBERNATIVO NÚMERO 737-92
- Ley de Mineria
- DECRETO NUMERO 529
- LEY DEL ORGANISMO EJECUTIVO
- CODIGO DE NOTARIADO
- DECRETO NUMERO 74-2008
- ACUERDO GUBERNATIVO No. 137-2009
- DECRETO NUMERO 18-2008
- DECRETO NÚMERO 9-2009
- DECRETO NÚMERO 22-2008
- DECRETO NÚMERO 28-2010
- DECRETO NÚMERO 27-2003
- DECRETO NUMERO 33-98
- ACUERDO GUBERNATIVO No. 86-2006
- DECRETO NÚMERO 58-2005
- DECRETO NÚMERO 118-2002
- DECRETO NÚMERO 67-2001
- DECRETO NÚMERO 49-98
- DECRETO NÙMERO 100-96
- DECRETO NÚMERO 26-97
- DECRETO NUMERO 57-2000
- DECRETO NUMERO 33-2006
- ACUERDO GUBERNATIVO NÚMERO 213-2013
- CÓDIGO PENAL
- CÓDIGO PROCESAL PENAL
- LEY CONTRA LA DEFRAUDACIÓN Y CONTRABANDO ADUANEROS
- DELITO ECONÓMICO ESPECIAL
- LEY FORESTAL
- LEY PARA PREVENIR Y REPRIMIR EL FINANCIAMIENTO DEL TERRORISMO
- LEY DE ARMAS Y MUNICIONES
- LEY CONTRA LA NARCOACTIVIDAD
- LEY CONTRA EL LAVADO DE DINERO U OTROS ACTIVOS
- LEY CONTRA LA DELINCUENCIA ORGANIZADA
- LEY DE EXTINCIÓN DE DOMINIO
- LEY PARA PREVENIR, SANCIONAR Y ERRADICAR LA VIOLENCIA INTRAFAMILIAR
- LEY CONTRA EL FEMICIDIO Y OTRAS FORMAS DE VIOLENCIA CONTRA LA MUJER
- LEY CONTRA LA VIOLENCIA SEXUAL, EXPLOTACIÓN Y TRATA DE PERSONAS
- LEY CONTRA LA CORRUPCIÓN
- LEY DE EQUIPOS TERMINALES MÓVILES
- LEY PARA LA PROTECCIÓN DE SUJETOS PROCESALES Y PERSONAS VINCULADAS A LA ADMINISTRACIÓN DE JUSTICIA PENAL
- LEY NACIONAL DE ADUANAS
- LEY ORGÁNICA DEL INSTITUTO PARA LA ASISTENCIA Y ATENCIÓN A LA VÍCTIMA DEL DELITO
- LEY PARA LA PROTECCIÓN DEL PATRIMONIO CULTURAL DE LA NACIÓN
- LEY DE CONTRATACIONES DEL ESTADO
- LEY DE MIGRACIÓN
- LEY DEL RÉGIMEN PENITENCIARIO
- LEY DE IMPLEMENTACIÓN DEL CONTROL TELEMÁTICO EN EL PROCESO PENAL
Other Types of Laws
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
1. In October 2022, Bill 6145 was presented before the Congress, which among other purposes, seeks to control to a greater extent the functioning, operation, cooperation, and planning of NGOs. It, for example, allows the government to arbitrarily decide the “viability of [an] organization,” which can limit the right to freedom of association and the defense of human rights in Guatemala. Currently this initiative is in its second reading in the Plenary of the Congress, but there are fears from organizations that it will be harmful to democracy and civil society and that it may enter into force as a law in 2023.
2. Bill 6155 provides for the approval of the Law for the Rational and Legitimate Use of Force and may violate the rights of citizens by making legitimate the excessive use of force against them during protests.
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 email@example.com
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)
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. Caal 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.
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. Unfortunately, the registration criteria applied by REPEJU is constantly changing and REPEJU will often interpret uncertain provisions in a restrictive manner.
For other forms of CSOs – 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 CSO is accomplished by a public deed 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 recorded 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
The approval of Decree 4-2020 or Reforms to the NGO-D law has impeded the activities that organizations can carry out. Decree 4-2020 lists a series of activities that organizations can pursue but restricts organizations from conducting activities that are not specifically authorized.
The government seeks to supervise not only the organizations that receive funds from the state, but all CSOs. The law provides that REPEJU and the Ministry of the Interior exercise supervisory control over CSOs.
In addition, donations that come from abroad must be registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with information confirming how much money was received and its use by the organization.
Moreover, the Special Verification Intendency (IVE) conducts audits of NGOs that are registered in the IVE. The IVE is part of the banking system in Guatemala and ensures compliance with counter-money laundering and counter-terrorism legislation. NGOs are concerned that they will face difficulties in meeting the IVE’s requirements, including paying large fines ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 that can be imposed by the IVE, although no such fines have reportedly been imposed as of August 2022.
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 of its members;
- By legal provision or resolution of the competent court.
The reforms to the NGO-D law also envision involuntary dissolution when an organization carries out activities that alter public order (without limiting the scope of this term) or for not updating their data within six months of the law being published. This period ended on February 2, 2022. Therefore, because of 1,412 registered NGOs only 199 were updated, 1,213 NGOs face cancellation in the coming months.
Harassment / Attacks
In practice, human rights defenders and environmental activists have been subject to threats, harassment, stigmatization and violent attacks, and in some cases, assassination. An Amnesty International report on Guatemala noted: “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 CSOs 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” and addresses several aspects of freedom of expression in considerable detail (See the “Constitutional Framework” sub-section above in this report).
There are no legal restrictions on speech/advocacy 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. The same is true for journalists and reporters, with threats coming from public officials and criminal organizations. Consequently, journalists have acknowledged that they practice self-censorship. According to Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 World Press Freedom Index, Guatemala was among the least free countries for the media. It was ranked 124 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 is hostile. More broadly, since January 2020, when Alejandro Giammattei took office as President, 350 attacks against the press have occurred, according to the Guatemalan Association of Journalists (APG). APG emphasized that public authorities are violating freedom of expression by persecuting journalists, voices critical of the regime, and protest participants. The traditional media are perceived as biased, with alternative media alone addressing issues of impunity and corruption.
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 are 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, government authorities 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.
More recently, in order to avoid criticism, the government of Alejandro Giamattei in 2021 strategically placed a vaccination post in front of the Plaza de la Constitución. The objective may have been, at least in part, to prevent demonstrations in a historic place because in that same square various civic groups demonstrated in 2015 to demand the resignation of President Otto Pe’rez Molina and Vice-President Roxanna Basldetti for 22 weeks. In addition, in March 2022, the celebration of the first “Family Day” saw law enforcement prevent demonstrations by closing streets surrounding the National Palace.
|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 (2022)|
|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 (2023)|
|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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. In March 2022, the Association for Legislative Development and Democracy (LEGIS) presented a report to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, that examined the crisis in Guatemala since the entry into force of the reforms to Decree 02-2003 or the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations for Development (NGO-D Law). Among other concerns, more than 1,000 organizations are in danger of being closed by the government. Please see the Barriers to Operations section below in this report for more details.
2. 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.
3. In March 2021, CSOs presented to the Constitutional Court amicus curiae on the protection and maintaining of the Law on NGO-Ds.
Police begin clearing protesters’ roadblocks after president threatens a crackdown (October 2023)
Riot police began efforts to clear roadblocks by protesters that have paralyzed parts of Guatemala for more than a week, just hours after President Alejandro Giammattei vowed to clear the country’s roadways. More than 120 roadblocks have snarled traffic and disrupted commerce as thousands of farmers and members of Indigenous communities demand the resignation of Attorney General Consuelo Porras and express their support for incoming progressive President-elect Bernardo Arévalo. Porras’ office has multiple open investigations related to August’s presidential elections and has successfully sought the suspension of Arévalo’s party — moves that the protesters denounce as attempts to thwart the incoming leader before he takes office in January.
Guatemala court suspends opposition party, casting doubt over presidential run-off vote (July 2023)
A Guatemalan court has suspended the party of one of the candidates in next month’s presidential run-off election, raising questions over the vote. In a video posted on the Twitter account of the Guatemalan Public Ministry, Rafael Curruchich, the head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), said they are investigating Movimiento Semilla for allegedly falsifying citizens signatures. Movimiento Semilla is the party of opposition candidate Bernardo Arévalo.
Guatemala election run-off: Chaos after key party suspended (July 2023)
Guatemala’s troubled presidential election was thrown into even greater turmoil when the country’s top electoral tribunal confirmed the results of the June 25 vote while the attorney general’s office announced that the second-place Seed Movement party had been suspended. The seemingly contradictory moves fed more than two weeks of rising tensions and suspicions after the first round of voting, which had seemingly sent conservative Sandra Torres and progressive Bernardo Arevalo, who leads the Seed Movement, into an August 20 presidential run-off.
Respect Election Results (July 2023)
Guatemalan authorities should respect the results of elections held on June 25, 2023. Concerned governments, including from Latin America, should urge the government and other authorities to ensure democratic values and respect the will of Guatemalans expressed at the polls.
Outrage in Guatemala as crusading journalist given six-year prison term (June 2023)
A veteran journalist and founder of one of Guatemala’s oldest newspapers has been sentenced to six years in prison for money laundering, in a case widely condemned as politically motivated. José Rubén Zamora, 66, was convicted by a three-judge panel in Guatemala City, who ruled that there was “no doubt” the outspoken critic of government corruption masterminded the laundering of almost $40,000 in 2022. The court absolved Zamora of blackmail and peddling influence charges.
Guatemala Election Campaigning begins Amid Public Distrust (April 2023)
Campaigning began last month for Guatemala’s general elections, with political messaging filling the streets, local broadcasts and social media. But less than three months before the June 25 vote, concerns are mounting among national and international observers over the integrity of the process.
Guatemalan Rights Defenders Challenge Ban from Presidential Ballot (February 2023)
In Guatemala, indigenous human rights defender and presidential hopeful Thelma Cabrera has vowed to fight the decision by Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal to block her and her running mate, former human rights ombudsman Jordán Rodas, from the ballot in this year’s presidential elections. Cabrera and Rodas, who are members of the leftist political party, the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples, were in Washington, D.C. to meet with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights following their ban from the elections.
Deputies Confront Bill that Contemplates the Creation of a New Ministry (January 2023) (Spanish)
The presentation in the plenary of the Congress of decree 6145 led to discussion between deputies on the viability of this law and allegations of its unconstitutionality and violations of human rights if it were to go into effect.
CSOs Welcome U.S House of Representatives Resolution (November 2022) (Spanish)
CSOs welcomed the U.S House of Representatives resolution to restore the rule of law in Guatemala. The resolution urges the U.S Government to increase its efforts to demonstrate to Guatemala’s corrupt officials and business elites that their systematic attempts to undermine the rule of law will have consequences.
Civil Society Concerned about Voting Legitimacy (November 2022) (Spanish)
According to CSOs and former electoral authorities, in the next elections votes could be lost if the way in which the data is entered is not modified. This could threaten electoral legitimacy.
Under Giammattei’s Government There Have Been 350 Attacks on the Press (July 2022) (Spanish)
Since January 14, 2020, when Alejandro Giammattei took office as President, 350 attacks against the press have occurred, according to a report shared by the Guatemalan Association of Journalists (APG). The members of the association highlighted that in Guatemala, freedom of expression is one of the fundamental rights of the population that is violated by public authorities because the State is promoting persecution campaigns against journalists, voices critical of the regime, and participants of citizen demonstrations.
Deputies Seek to Authorize Alternative Measures for Police and Soldiers Who Use Force (June 2022) (Spanish)
A group of deputies from the Union of National Change (UCN) promoted a law initiative that would grant an alternative measure to elements of the National Civil Police (PNC) and the Army when they are involved in the commission of a crime while using force. Initiative 6076 establishes that “the personnel that make up the public security forces and the Guatemalan Army, who in the legitimate exercise of their functions are involved in the commission of an alleged illegal act, will be placed under house arrest as a coercive measure.”
Young People Reject Law for the Protection of Life and Family for Limiting Rights (March 2022) (Spanish)
Dozens of people walked from Plaza El Obelisco and Avenida Bolívar towards the Historic Center of the capital in protest against Decree 18-2022, which was approved this week by deputies of the Congress of the Republic, on the Law for the Protection of Life and Family. Most of the people who participated in the march are young people who identify with groups of sexual diversity. The young people carried banners and posters in which they reproached the legislators for having proposed an initiative that, in their opinion, “limits rights.”
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.