Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities of the Office of the High Commissioner in Guatemala (A/HRC/40/3/Add.1)

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Human Rights Council
Fortieth session
25 February–22 March 2019
Agenda item 2

Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General


Activities of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


In the present report, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights describes the situation of human rights and the activities of the Office of the High Commissioner in Guatemala from 1 January to 31 December 2018. She highlights progress and challenges, with a focus on issues relating to justice, security, the situation of human rights defenders, journalists, indigenous peoples, persons of African descent, women, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, persons with disabilities and migrants, and economic, social and cultural rights. She outlines the relevant activities of the Office and makes a number of recommendations to various State institutions and other stakeholders.

**I. Introduction **

  1. The present report was prepared pursuant to the agreement between the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Government of Guatemala, signed in January 2005 and renewed in September 2017 for an additional three years.

  2. The report covers the year 2018, and is based on information collected and analysed by OHCHR in Guatemala. It highlights the activities carried out by the Office with relevant authorities and other stakeholders to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights.

**II. Context **

  1. Guatemala continues to face systemic poverty, inequality, discrimination, exclusion and a high level of impunity. In 2018, the country was ranked 127 in the Human Development Index, the second lowest in its region, falling two points due to the lack of gender equality, and social and economic inequality.

  2. In 2018, social and political tensions deepened, and there was a backlash against the efforts to combat impunity and corruption. In this context, peaceful demonstrations were held, led by university students, indigenous peoples and campesino communities. Sweeping changes were made in the executive branch, including removals and resignations in key ministries. As a result, important policies and reforms relating to human rights were rolled back, notably within the Ministry of the Interior. Congress did not make progress in the adoption of laws in critical human rights areas, instead promoting a regressive agenda that could further entrench impunity, restrict civic space, 1 and undermine the rights of indigenous peoples, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. These trends risk reversing the progress made in the implementation of the 1996 peace agreements that brought the internal armed conflict to an end.

  3. On 31 August 2018, the President of the Republic, Jimmy Morales, in the presence of members of the military and police forces, publicly announced that he would not renew the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala in 2019. On 3 September, the Government announced that it would not allow Iván Velásquez, the head of the Commission, to re-enter the country “for reasons of public order and security”.2 On 5 September, the Secretary-General expressed serious concern over the decision and confirmed that Commissioner Velásquez would continue to lead the Commission from abroad.3 On 16 September, the Constitutional Court ordered that the Commissioner be allowed back into the country (file 4207-2018). On 19 December, the Government requested that 11 investigators with the Commission leave the country within 72 hours. In response, the Constitutional Court granted injunctions to suspend the decision regarding those investigators (file 5346-2018). On 26 December, the Office of the Counsel General filed a request to lift the immunity of three judges of the Constitutional Court, alleging that they had acted “illegally and arbitrarily”.

  4. The Office of the Attorney General and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala continued to investigate and prosecute members of criminal networks that still permeate all branches of the State. The former Vice President, Roxana Baldetti, was sentenced to over 15 years in prison for corruption (file M001-2015-28365), and the former Minister of the Interior, Mauricio López Bonilla, to over eight years for fraud (file MP 001-2016-5771). In April 2018, Alvaro Arzú, long-standing Mayor of Guatemala City and former President, died while under investigation for corruption. In May, the President elected a new Attorney General following a selection process led by an appointment committee. In general, there are still concerns regarding the independence and objectivity of appointment committees for the selection of judicial officials (A/HRC/28/3/Add.1, para. 22).

  5. Intolerance of dissent increased and the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly continued to be under threat. There was an increase in the number of murders of human rights defenders, which reached a total of 26 at the end of December.
    There is concern that violence against human rights defenders could increase in the period leading up to the 2019 general elections. There was also an increase in threats to the independence of judges and magistrates. The Ombudsperson was subjected to smear campaigns and summoned for hearings in Congress, in acts that were perceived as harassment.

  6. Opportunities for international cooperation with the Government were reduced, including by delays in the approval of projects. In May, the President requested the substitution of the ambassadors of Sweden and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela; the Constitutional Court granted a provisional injunction against the decision concerning the Ambassador of Sweden.

  7. In May, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples visited Guatemala, meeting with Maya, Xinka and Garifuna peoples. She identified widespread racism and discrimination as the main structural problems affecting indigenous peoples, stating that they amounted to “de facto racial segregation”. The Special Rapporteur referred to the painful patterns of violence and repression, including an increase in the number of murders of indigenous defenders, which kept alive the legacy of abuse and genocide dating from the time of the internal armed conflict (A/HRC/39/17/Add.3, paras. 6–7 and 60).

  8. The year was also marked by serious humanitarian situations. More than 194 people died and at least 234 disappeared as a result of the eruption of the Fuego volcano on 3 June.
    Some 12,823 people were evacuated from their homes, but only 3,343 were relocated to temporary shelters.4 The shelters did not comply, however, with international standards, leading to tensions with the Government. Efforts to locate missing persons, including some involving the use of dermatoglyphics and DNA technology, are ongoing. Some of the communities that were evacuated had been previously displaced during the armed conflict and relocated to the slopes of the volcano.

  9. Over a year after the death of 41 girls in a fire in the Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción, a government-run shelter for children, in March 2017, the 15 survivors and 56 families of the victims have not yet received adequate psychological, legal and economic support. The adoption, in August 2018, of a law to provide financial support to the survivors, and the declaration of 8 March as the national day to commemorate the victims of the tragedy, represent important but insufficient steps to guarantee dignified and transformative reparation. There were delays in the criminal trial, and the State has yet to implement much-needed structural changes to the child protection system. In November,
    OHCHR issued a report on the tragedy, making recommendations to the authorities.5

  10. Inequality and widespread violence, such as gang violence and organized crime, continued to drive migration, including migration of children. Thousands of people from Central America travelled north, through Guatemala, from October.6 In December, two Guatemalan migrant children, Jakeline Caal (7 years old) and Felipe Gómez (8 years old), died while detained in a Customs and Border Protection centre in the United States of America. More than 460 children and adolescents from Guatemala had been separated from their families by the migration authorities of the United States as at June 2018.7 As at September, 79,864 Guatemalan citizens had been deported from the United States and Mexico (51 per cent more than in 2017).8 Migrants make an essential contribution to the economy, shown by the fact that remittances make up 11.3 per cent of the GDP of Guatemala, close to the total GDP contribution from the agriculture, cattle, hunting, forestry and fishing industries.9 13. The first national population and housing census since 2001 was held in July and August. It gathered crucial information to better understand and address the economic and social needs of the population and to better implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Although questions on self-identification and identity, such as on languages spoken, were included in the census, OHCHR received complaints that those questions were not asked systematically or they were asked incorrectly, which may result in underregistration of the indigenous population.

  11. The presidential, legislative and municipal general elections are scheduled to be held in 2019, and new high court judges will also be appointed. There is a crucial need for effective mechanisms in the period leading up to and during the elections to ensure the meaningful participation and adequate representation of the diverse Guatemalan population.