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

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.