Washington D.C.–Today, U.S. human rights organizations are launching three reports raising concern about Guatemala’s path towards authoritarianism and calling for stronger U.S. government responses. Twenty-five judges and prosecutors, including the nation’s lead anti-corruption prosecutor, have fled the country, and others remain jailed or were forced to resign. Given the severity of the crisis of democracy in Guatemala and the upcoming general election in 2023, these reports provide valuable information to understand the country’s challenges in promoting the rule of law and the impacts on U.S. policy goals on combating corruption, promoting human rights, advancing the rule of law, migration, and economic growth.
The first report, Guatemala’s Downward Spiral,” summarizes the ways in which corrupt elites have captured the State from the closing of the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity (CICIG) to the current co-optation of the justice sector system, and identifies the actors behind the attacks on those fighting for justice and future threats to democracy in Guatemala.
The second report, “Under Assault in Guatemala: Journalists & Indigenous & Human Rights Activists,” outlines the closing of civic space as one of the strategies being used by corrupt networks to quell disruptions to their power, avoid historic responsibility for crimes committed during the internal armed conflict, and silence voices exposing corruption. It provides information on the forms of criminalization of journalists, human rights and Indigenous activists in Guatemala, including via anti-NGO legislation, and the shuttering of human rights institutions.
“When the Dominoes Fall: Cooptation of the Justice System in Guatemala” provides analysis on the steps taken to undermine Guatemala’s justice system from the stacking of its highest courts with corrupt judges to the co-opting and dismantling of the Attorney General’s Office and specialized prosecutors’ offices. It explains the longer-term implications of the ousting of honest judges and prosecutors and a broken justice system for the rule of law, transitional justice and protecting freedom of expression and the rights of marginalized communities in Guatemala.
The reports offer a range of recommendations to the U.S. Congress and Biden Administration on how to support the rule of law in Guatemala, including by expressing concern regarding the attacks against independent judges, prosecutors, journalists, and Indigenous and human rights activists; issuing visa sanctions for corrupt individuals and stepping up the investigation and freezing of economic assets and holdings in the U.S. financial system of such individuals; reviewing loans or aid from financial institutions to ensure these are not channeled to corrupt entities; and carrying out initiatives to protect and defend civic space in Guatemala as a part of broader such efforts in Central America.
“The takeover of Guatemalan institutions by corrupt elites will make achieving the U.S. goal of addressing the root causes of migration impossible. Corruption robs the state not just of resources but of political will to serve Guatemala’s citizens. The Biden Administration must up its game and increase the financial consequences for corrupt leaders. We must stand up with the brave Indigenous and human rights activists and remaining honest judges and prosecutors who are risking their lives to defend the rule of law in Guatemala,” said Lisa Haugaard, Co-director of the Latin America Working Group (LAWG).
“Guatemala’s democracy is facing one of the most fragile moments in recent decades. Authoritarian practices are reflected in the lack of judicial independence, the criminalization of justice operators and the attacks against any dissident voice. Criminal networks have infiltrated the political and legal spheres, turning the government into their main ally to advance their own interests. The U.S. government should implement a coherent policy to safeguard democratic values and protect civil society,” states Ana María Méndez-Dardón, Director for Central America at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
“In Guatemala, the political use of criminal justice to persecute independent justice operators, human rights defenders, journalists, and other critical voices is characterized by a high level of coordination between institutions, which is only possible with an almost total co-optation of the justice system,” said Ursula Indacochea, Director of Judicial Independence at the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF).
“Human rights defenders today face unprecedented danger since the signing of the Peace Accords. The protections and mechanisms established to protect human rights and Indigenous communities in Guatemala have been systematically stripped away leaving defenders with few options, often forcing them to flee their homes, communities, and Guatemala altogether,” said Corie Welch, Advocacy Director at the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA (GHRC).
For all three reports click here.