Growing concern over cases of criminalisation of HRDs and their activities


On 4th February 2017, social activist Abelino Chub Caal was arrested by three members of the National Police (PNC), who drove him 11 kilometres from Carchá to Coban, and kept him detained without justification. It was only when he was brought to court for a hearing that Caal was informed of the charges against him, namely aggravated usurpation, arson, coercion, unlawful association and links with illegal armed associations. 

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) issued a statement in which it urged the Guatemalan government to ensure that due process guarantees were observed in Caal's case. The OMCT expressed concern that Caal's arbitrary detention seemed "to have taken place in response to his legitimate activities in defence of human rights in Guatemala".

Another human rights defender, Fausto Sánchez Roblero, was released on 10th March 2017 after he was found not guilty of a kidnapping charge brought against him by the Public Ministry. Sánchez was in prison for 790 days, and claims that he was imprisoned for his campaign against the construction of a hydroelectric plant.

Several prominent international actors have recently expressed concerns regarding the criminalisation of human rights defenders' (HRDs) activities in Guatemala. On 16th February 2017, the European Parliament passed a resolution on the increasing risks faced by HRDs in the country, urging the government to take concrete steps to ensure the safety of HRDs. Also, during the 161st session of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights in March 2017, a hearing was held for civil society representatives and the State of Guatemala to discuss the alleged criminalisation of HRDs who have mobilised against hydroelectric projects in the country. Civil society noted that 80 cases of criminalisation had been documented in 2016; however, state representatives claimed that the reported instances of criminalisation were isolated cases and not a reflection of the state's position against HRD activities. As a result of the hearing, the State of Guatemala committed to submitting a report within six months to determine if the cases, as cited by civil society, are indeed examples of criminalisation of HRDs and their activities. 

On 26th February 2017, the international organisation Women on Waves was expelled from Guatemala. Operating from a ship outside the territorial waters in countries where abortion is illegal, the organisation provides contraceptives, information, training, workshops, and safe and legal abortion services. Guatemalan migration authorities justified the expulsion on the grounds that the organisation's activists had allegedly entered the country for tourism and had not stated their connection to the organisation. Women on Waves reported that while their ship was detained, several of their activists had rights violated, including freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom of movement and the right to an effective remedy.


On 24th February 2017, the Vice President of Guatemala ordered that an article be removed from publication in the weekly journal ContraPoderAccording to Guatemalan civil society, the article was pulled because it reported on a defamation campaign involving the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala.

On 5th April 2017, the Inter-American Press Association presented a report showing that the Guatemalan government has failed to establish a Protection Program for Journalists, as it had promised at the United Nations Human Rights Council 2012 Universal Periodic Review. President Jimmy Morales had also committed to creating such a program for journalists when he took office in January 2016.