Status: abandoned policy or process

To date, Guatemala does not have an enacted public policy for the protection of human rights defenders. Despite several calls by civil society and an order issued by the Inter-American Court in 2014 to install such a policy, all government action towards compliance with this court order completely stopped in 2020 and there are no signs of the movement by the current administration. Meanwhile, the situation for human rights defenders in Guatemala is highly concerning and attacks against human rights defenders are increasing (UDEFUEGA, 2020; UDEFUEGA, 2021).

A 2014 ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the case of Human rights defender and others vs Guatemala ordered Guatemala to create protection measures for human rights defenders. Even though government officials have expressed a willingness to develop a policy for the protection of defenders, these promises have  not resulted in any viable proposals. Civil society organisations persistently continue to call upon the Guatemalan government  to follow-up on the order by the Inter-American Court.

The Guatemalan government  initiated the drafting process in 2018, which included roundtable discussions between different state institutions and representatives of civil society organisations on the aspects to be included in the public policy. The first draft, which gathered the inputs of the process and was meant to be taken for consultation to territories outside the capital, disappeared upon the arrival of President Alejandro Giammattei’s government in January 2020. The institution that led the process, Comisión Presidencial de Derechos Humanos (COPREDEH), was dissolved in the middle of that same year and the entity designated to assume COPREDEH’s responsibilities, the Comisión Presidencial por la Paz y los Derechos Humanos (COPADEH) has had neither the capacity nor the political backing to give continuity to the formulation of public policy. There has have not been any signs of significant movement on the draft since 2019.

Like all countries worldwide, Guatemala is monitored by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. Their last country visit to Guatemala was made in 2009 and the reports noted extreme violence against human rights defenders. Annual reports (such as the one from 2021 or from 2020) highlight the continuing stigmatisation of human rights defenders, as well as impunity for attacks, reprisals and intimidation against judges and public prosecutors.

Guatemala is also monitored by the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The 2017 national report highlighted the need for more trained personnel for the protection of human rights defenders. It also noted the development of entities such as the Office for the Analysis of Attacks against Human Rights Defenders (Instancia de Análisis de Ataques Contra Defensores de Derechos Humanos, created through Ministerial Agreement No. 103-2008) and the Protection of Persons and Security Division (División de Protección de Personas y de Seguridad). These government bodies, however, are heavily criticised by civil society and are not considered to be providing effective protection  for defenders.  In 2017, Guatemala supported recommendations to develop a protection policy for human rights defenders but, as mentioned above, the process has been abandoned. In the last report of 2022, the State of Guatemala paints an exclusively positive picture of  the state’s overall protection of HRDs, but the shadow reports submitted by civil society actually show a deterioration of the situation for human rights defenders and civic space.

Guatemala is rated as “obstructed” by CIVICUS monitor 2022, which means that civic space is “heavily contested by power holders who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights”. Guatemala has not been rated by the Freedom House Democracy Index. Concerns around Guatemala include continuing harassment and criminalisation of defenders, as well as recent reforms to NGO laws (Amnesty International, 2020; FIDH, 2020).

Updated on 08/02/2023

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