CIVICUS

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Guatemala

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Last updated on 20.09.2018 at 11:52

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 Environment for defenders continues to be hostile with one WHRD killed in July

Environment for defenders continues to be hostile with one WHRD killed in July

On 28th July 2018, the authorities found the dead body of Juana Raymundo, a women activist, Ixil indigenous leader and member of Comité de Desarrollo Campesino (Campesino Development Committee, CODECA).

On 31st August 2018, President Jimmy Morales decided not to renew the mandate of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) an UN-sponsored institution charged with assisting corruption investigations. In addition, he said that Ivan Velazquez, the head of the Commission, would not be allowed back in the country. President Morales backed his decision on accusations of alleged corruption and intrusion in internal affairs of the country by the CICIG. The announcement was preceded by a strong presence of  army vehicles outside the office of the CICIG. 

Civil society in the country has expressed its concern regarding this decision because of the key role that the CICIG has played in the fight against corruption and impunity in the country. Its work has been crucial in the prosecution of high-level officials and business-people, for example, in 2015 the then President Otto Perez Molina was forced to resign after a corruption investigation. Currently, president Morales is under investigation over allegations of illicit campaign financing.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed concern over the decision and "reiterates the fundamental importance of the fight against corruption to guarantee the effective enjoyment of human rights and an independent and impartial justice". 

Transparency International also issued a statement saying

"The announcement by President Morales not to renew the mandate of CICIG, represents a severe blow against transparency and integrity in Guatemala and throughout Latin America. CICIG has been a model in the fight against corruption. The fact that the President made the announcement surrounded by military officials and the deployment of military forces near the offices of CICIG are an attempt at intimidation. It is very dangerous to involve the military in political and judicial issues." 

On 16th September 2018, the Constitutional Court reversed the decision and ordered President Morales to allow the head of the Commission to enter the country. However, the government rejected the court ruling and said the they would not accept Velazquez as the CICIG commissioner. The government claimed that the "Constitutional Court’s ruling did not mention Commissioner Velásquez by name, the government’s obligation was to allow a commissioner, not necessarily the current one, to enter the country and that it would negotiate the selection of a new commissioner with the United Nations".

Association

On 28th July 2018, the authorities found the dead body of Juana Raymundo, Ixil indigenous leader and member of Comité de Desarrollo Campesino (Campesino Development Committee,CODECA). The causes of the attack have not been determined, however, the murder follows the assassination of several members of CODECA in 2018 and a criminalisation campaign against the organisation. Front Line Defenders said:

"Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the killing of indigenous human rights defender Juana Raymundo, as it believes that it is linked to her legitimate human rights work. Front Line Defenders expresses further concern over the criminalisation, systematic killings, attacks and smear campaigns against CODECA and its members."

After leaving a meeting on 14th August 2018, land-rights activists Edwin Choc and Martin Chub were beaten and arrested by the police under charges of land usurpation. The meeting they were leaving was, in fact, a negotiation meeting with Government representatives to discuss the land disputes in the region of Alta Verapaz and express their concern over the attacks they have been subject to, including the three murders of members of its organisation (the Comite Campesino del Altiplano - CCDA). 

In a positive step towards ending impunity, it was reported that one person was arrested on 10th August accused of being the attacker that killed Florencio Najera and Alejandro Hernandez, two members of CODECA in 2018. 

Peaceful Assembly

During the first weeks of September, thousands took to the streets to reject the government's decision not to renew the mandate on the CICIG reported above. A strong police and military presence in the streets to dissuade the protesters, prevented one march to reach Congress. 

In a separate incident, taxi drivers held several protests in August to demand the shutdown of Uber in Guatemala. In late August the municipality of Guatemala City announced that it filed a complaint to prevent taxi drivers from blocking the main streets of the city. 

Expression

On 20th August 2018, a group of workers from a hydroelectric project attacked the journalist Rolanda de Jesus Garcia and her team. The media team was filming the illegal cutting of trees when a group of workers approached and forced them to leave under threats of destroying their equipment and sexual harassment. Moments later, Garcia was detained by the workers who forced her to delete the footage and commit not to disseminate the information after which she was released.

The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) rejected the cyber-attack against elPeriodico, a critical media outlet. The newspaper's Director Jose Zamora was sued on July 2018 by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sandra Jovel under charges of psychological violence for his constant criticism to Jovel’s work. A judge prohibited Zamora and the news site from mentioning the Minister’s name. The cyber-attack is presumed to be a part of the constant harassment to the media outlet. 

Guatemala is currently on the Monitor's Watch List of countries where there is an urgent, immediate and developing threat to civic space. If you have information to share on the situation, please get in touch. Click here to find our contact details.

Association

Despite being recognised in the constitution, there are a number of restrictions on freedom of association in Guatemala, most of which are linked to crime and violence.

Despite being recognised in the constitution, there are a number of restrictions on freedom of association in Guatemala, most of which are linked to crime and violence. A wide variety of CSOs operate in Guatemala, but some confront significant obstacles. Although access to funding is not limited by law, a propaganda campaign against international cooperation has reduced foreign funding in recent years. Human rights defenders are severely criminalised: the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala documented 174 murders of defenders between 2000 and August 2014. In the first half of 2016 alone, the organisation documented 86 attacks and threats against activists. The targets of these attacks and threats are predominantly land rights and environmental defenders, as well as indigenous rights defenders and trade union leaders. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, Guatemala is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for trade unionists. Workers are frequently prevented from organising, and unionised workers are regularly subject to intimidation and violence.

Peaceful Assembly

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed, only requiring organisers to give the authorities prior notification

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed, only requiring organisers to give the authorities prior notification. However, in practice, this right is far from unrestricted. Security forces’ repression of protests – particularly those of indigenous and rural populations - is relatively frequent while recent legal innovations have made the disruption of demonstrations more likely. The 2014 Traffic Circulation and Obstruction of Roads Act, known as the Ley de Túmulos, prohibits roadblocks and any other obstacles to vehicular circulation, and punishes noncompliance with fines and imprisonment. Many mobilisations in 2014 and 2015 came in response to escalating restrictions on civic space. Also noteworthy were massive anti-corruption demonstrations in 2015, which forced the resignations and prosecution of the country’s president and vice-president.

Expression

Although the right to freedom of expression is recognised in the Constitution of Guatemala, both legal and de facto restrictions abound.

Although the right to freedom of expression is recognised in the Constitution of Guatemala, both legal and de facto restrictions abound. Among the former are prohibitions against broadcasts that offend civic values, national symbols, morals, and good etiquette, while defamation remains a criminal offence punishable with fines and imprisonment. Media ownership is highly concentrated in private conglomerates, and community radio stations – which are not even recognised under the 2012 General Telecommunications Law – are increasingly under attack, especially in communities involved in land and environmental conflicts. Journalists are routinely threatened, intimidated, judicially harassed, and even physically assaulted by both state and non-state actors. In the first half of 2016, 5 media workers were killed. Levels of self-censorship are high in areas where organised crime is prevalent, especially where its activity concerns issues such as drug trafficking, corruption, and human rights violations. An Access to Information Law was passed in 2008, but obtaining government-held information remains difficult. While Internet access is unrestricted, news websites are increasingly targeted by cyber-attacks, and online editors and reporters are also threatened and assaulted.