Guatemala: Serious attacks on civil society continue to undermine the country’s already fragile democracy

Press release
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Geneva-Paris-Guatemala City, June 16, 2021 – The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT), CALDH and UDEFEGUA condemn the arrest of 21 individualsholding a peaceful demonstration in the community of Chicoyogüito. They also condemn the entry into force of the Guatemalan Law on NGOs (Ley de ONG) on June 21, 2021, which will allow the government to summarily and discretionary close down NGOs and thus prosecute organisations that receive funding from abroad, which according to the government disturb public order. These measures further infringe the right to freedom of association and are another step towards a totalitarian regime in Guatemala.

Attacks on civil society and human rights defenders in Guatemala continue unabated and are taking on serious proportions. On Monday June 14, 2021, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court (Corte de Constitucionalidad) dismissed the last remaining appeals seeking to prevent the imminent entry into force of the Law on NGOs. In fact, the composition of the new Constitutional Court has been questioned by broad sectors of civil society for consolidating what has become known in Guatemala as the Pacto de Corruptos: a group of politicians, judges and businessmen seeking to co-opt justice in order to avoid prosecution for corruption and illicit electoral financing.

The Observatory and UDEFEGUA had already warned of the dangers of the bill. However, as of Monday June 21, 2021, under this law, the government will be able to summarily and discretionarily close down non-governmental organisations.

The undersigned organisations are also calling for the immediate release of the 21 individuals who were arrested with excessive use of force, while peacefully demonstrating in the community of Chicoyogüito. They were demanding the return of their ancestral lands, from which they were dispossessed by the Guatemalan Army 53 years ago, when it set up Military Zone No.21 (now known as CREOMPAZ). These 21 individuals were still in detention awaiting their first court hearing on June 18. The authorities are thus obstructing the human right to social protest, enshrined in the Guatemalan Constitution and in international human rights treaties signed by the Guatemalan State.

The Observatory, CALDH and UDEFEGUA express their utmost concern at these reports and remind the Guatemalan State that the work of civil society organisations and human rights defenders is fundamental for the proper functioning of democracy and the rule of law. The authorities must therefore guarantee these organisations and defenders’ independence and autonomy to operate and to exercise their rights. They play an essential role in overseeing the actions of the public authorities and in ensuring the protection of the human rights for the Guatemalan population as a whole.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

The Centre for Legal Action on Human Rights (Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos, CALDH) is an organisation for the defence and promotion of human rights in Guatemala. CALDH is a member organisation of the FIDH in Guatemala.

The Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) is an organization that provides services to human rights defendersin Guatemala and in countries of the Central American region since 2000, forthe generation of individual and Collective self-management of risks. UDEFEGUA is a member organization of the SOS-Torture Network of OMCT.

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