Guatemala: Amnesty International demands investigation into excessive use of force in protests

Having analysed the images of the 21 November protests, which demonstrate that the National Civil Police (PNC) used excessive force against demonstrators and bystanders, Amnesty International is calling upon the Guatemalan authorities to thoroughly investigate the human rights violations perpetrated in the context of the country’s recent protests.

“The police repression of the 21 November protests was extremely serious. It is clear to Amnesty International that the Guatemalan authorities have violated international standards on the use of force, and have attacked the population’s right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

“We demand that the Public Prosecutor’s Office conduct a prompt, thorough and independent investigation into the excessive use of force by police during the demonstrations and that the government ensure that the population is able to exercise its right to raise its voice without fear of reprisal.”

This weekend, thousands of people took to the streets of the capital and other cities around the country to protest at the Congress of the Republic’s approval of the 2021 national budget, which was tabled by President Alejandro Giammattei’s government with a lack of transparency that prevented any in-depth discussion. Among other concerns, the budget includes a substantial reduction in public spending on social programmes that would address the population’s needs, such as chronic malnutrition, as well as reductions in the budget of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman.

It is clear to Amnesty International that the Guatemalan authorities have violated international standards on the use of force, and have attacked the population’s right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

In response to isolated incidences of violence during what were mostly peaceful protests, the National Civil Police made unnecessary and indiscriminate use of tear gas and water cannons against people who were peacefully gathered or walking in the street. At least 43 arrests were recorded. From the images, Amnesty International has observed acts of violence committed by the police, including beatings of those arrested and journalists. Roosevelt Hospital also reported treating two people with eye injuries caused by tear gas canisters.

Devices that have an indiscriminate effect and serious potential for harm, such as tear gas or water cannon, should not be used against peaceful, or mostly peaceful, public gatherings. International standards on the use of force stipulate that they should only be used when strictly necessary and provided clear warning is given, in situations of widespread violence in order to disperse a crowd when all other means have failed to contain the violence.

Amnesty International repeats that acts of violence on the part of a few do not alter the peaceful nature of a protest and that police action must adhere to criteria of legality, necessity and proportionality.

“President Alejandro Giammattei’s government must ensure that people are able to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The use of the security forces to repress the population must therefore be halted, as well as the use of language that stigmatizes and seeks to criminalize people who are genuinely protesting in demand of the authorities’ accountability,” concluded Erika Guevara-Rosas.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Duncan Tucker: [email protected]