CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Guatemala

Live rating: Obstructed

Last updated on 26.11.2018 at 09:35

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 Three women HRDs sentenced to two and a half years in prison

Three women HRDs sentenced to two and a half years in prison

Judicial harassment in Guatemala moved beyond unlawful arrests and is now in a stage of sentences that will leave human rights defenders in prison for years.

Association

Judicial harassment in Guatemala moved beyond unlawful arrests and is now in a stage of sentences that will leave human rights defenders in prison for years. The Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (IM-Defensoras), reported that three women HRDs, Aura Margarita Valenzuela, Mariela Alvarez Sucup y Maria Magdalena Zarat Cuzán were sentenced to two and a half years in prison convicted of land usurpation due to an incident where the three were protecting a group of families that were evicted from their settlement in March 2017.

In a separate development, on 9th November 2018, a judge sentenced land rights defender Bernardo Caal to seven years and four months in prison for “illegal detention”. This decision caused outrage in Guatemala given that Caal is an activist protecting the land rights of the q’eqchi community and had been previously accused of other crimes that were not proven.

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.