March 4, 2019

The following is a joint press release of the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) and Union for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), released in Spanish and translated into English by PBI-USA.

A regressive agenda that curtails the freedom of association and citizen participation, and that seeks to establish absolute impunity with an end-point law. Acts of violence and blacklists of human rights defenders and activists. The crisis of human rights intensifies in Guatemala and should raise alarm in the international community.

Last week, the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) organized a brief visit to Guatemala jointly with UDEFEGUA, part of the accompaniment that OMCT has given for several years to civil society organizations working to document serious human rihts violations in the country. During the visit the delegation was able to meet with members of the international community, civilian actors, and state officials.

The delegation has noted with alarm the progress of a regressive agenda that intensifies the profound crisis of human rights in Guatemala as well as a vertiginous closing of space for citizen participation. Particularly noteworthy in this context are the efforts to approve the draft Law on Non-Governmental Organizations, which would effectively end the right of freedom of association in the coutnry, as well as the National Reconciliation Law, also known as the End-Point Law, which would decree absolute impunity for all crimes committed during the Guatemalan Civil War, during which there were at least 200,000 deaths, 45,000 forced disappearances, and around 100,000 victims of internal displacement, according to figures from the Commission for Historical Clarification published exactly 20 years ago.

In this regard, our organizations observe that the bill is contrary to the Concluding Observations on Guatemala from the UN Committee Against Torture, which urged the State to

"ensure that all serious human rights violations committed during the Civil War, in particular massacres and acts of torture, sexual violence, and forced disappearance, are investigated without delay, and that the intellectual and material perpetrators of such crimes, including genocide in the case of the Ixil1, are punished in accordance with the seriousness of their acts, including the chain of command."

We are similarly concerned about the efforts to dismiss numerous public officials, particularly including independent judges, for their defense of human rights and for having defended the rule of law in Guatemala in the face of regressive measures from the government of Jimmy Morales. Recently, UN experts expressed their concern about acts of intimidation against justice officials.

It is this profoundly concerning context that surrounds the deepening of violence against human rights defenders in Guatemala. Just in 2018, there were 391 attacks against defenders, including 26 assassinations and 147 cases of criminalization. It is alarming that at the beginning of 2019 two lists were published with the names of people being targeted for their professional, journalistic, and political activity, recalling the dark context of Guatemala's recent history during the Civil War.

In a regional context of extreme violence against human rights defenders including in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, and Honduras, our organizations are raising the alarm about the deepending of the human rights crisis in Guatemala, a coutnry whose leaders have proven willing to further deepen the crisis in order to advance their agenda and dismantle organized civil society. Without a firm reaction from the international community, Guatemala could be advancing inexorable toward the abyss.

1 An indigenous community in the western highlands of Guatemala.