Civic space shrank as judges and prosecutors, human rights defenders and protesters faced unfounded criminal proceedings. Authorities failed to protect the right to health and the rights of LGBTI people. Thousands were forced to leave the country because of high levels of violence, impunity, poverty and inequality.
Human rights defenders and journalists
Authorities failed to protect human rights defenders from attack and actively participated in their criminalization. The Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) recorded 2,273 attacks on human rights defenders and those working in the administration of justice between January and October.
In March, a judge granted human rights defender Bernardo Caal release on parole; he had spent more than four years in jail. However, he reported that he was still subject to another unfounded criminal proceeding that had not been completed at the end of the year.
Journalists reporting on corruption and impunity often faced unfounded criminal complaints and smear campaigns.
Freedom of assembly
According to local organizations, the Public Prosecutor’s Office lodged an appeal against the closure of the case against two people accused of defacing cultural property by daubing paint on the Congress building during the November 2020 protests, despite the lack of evidence against them.
Other activists and human rights defenders were informed of alleged criminal investigations against them for organizing or participating in the November 2020 protests. However, they were not allowed to see the criminal files on them, which remained under restricted access.
International human rights bodies and experts expressed multiple concerns over new attacks on the independence of judges, prosecutors and lawyers involved in key cases of crimes under international law, human rights violations and corruption. Authorities failed to protect them from constant intimidation, surveillance, threats and smear campaigns on social media and in the media designed to discredit their work. Authorities often used unfounded criminal proceedings against them. As a consequence, more of those involved in the administration of justice were forced to leave the country, among them judges Erika Aifan and Miguel Ángel Gálvez. Others were dismissed, suspended or imprisoned, including former prosecutor Virginia Laparra who was sentenced in December to a four-year jail sentence, despite the fact that there was no evidence against her.
Amid strong criticism from civil society organizations, the Prosecutor’s Office closed cases against people accused in large-scale corruption cases.
Right to truth, justice and reparation
Some progress was made in the investigations into crimes under international law and human rights violations perpetrated during the internal armed conflict (1960-1996), although the majority remained stalled.
A judge indicted at least nine retired military and police officers in the “Diario Militar” case. They were suspected of involvement in enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and other crimes under international law between 1983 and 1985 against at least 183 people considered political opponents.
Right to health
Health services were overwhelmed and unable to cover the basic needs of the population. Guatemala was one of the countries in the region that invested the least in public health as a percentage of GDP (2.2%), less than half the 6% recommended by the WHO.1
Covid-19 vaccination rates remained very low compared to the rest of region, particularly in rural and Indigenous areas, due to authorities’ failure to develop a comprehensive strategy that included providing information to Indigenous leaders and communities.
Sexual and reproductive rights
Abortion remained criminalized except when the pregnancy endangered the life of the pregnant person. Decree 18-2022, shelved in March by Congress, sought to amend the Penal Code to prosecute people who have miscarriages and impose prison sentences on anyone who “promotes or facilitates means for carrying out the abortion”.2
Violence against women and girls
Levels of violence against women and sexual violence against girls remained high.
Proceedings remained stalled against some of those accused in connection with the deaths in 2017 of 41 girls in a fire at the state-run Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción shelter.
LGBTI people’s rights
According to the National Observatory for LGBTIQ+ Rights, at least 29 people were killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in 2022.
Same-sex marriage was not recognized. In March, following national and international pressure, Congress shelved Decree 18-2022, which expressly prohibited same-sex marriage and the teaching of sexual diversity and gender equality in schools. However, Bill 5940, which sought to prohibit the dissemination of information on transgender identities and non-heterosexual relationships in school sexuality education programmes, was in the final stage of approval at the end of the year.
Failure to tackle the climate crisis and environmental degradation
In May, the government announced a new NDC, committing to reduce by 11.2% its greenhouse gas emissions with its own resources and up to 22.6% of its total greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 2016 levels, with technical and financial support from the international community. In its NDC, Guatemala also committed to combat deforestation. However, human rights defenders and Indigenous experts reported that illegal logging, the destruction of natural areas, the expansion of monocultures and the contamination of watersheds continued, as well as attacks against environmental defenders and Indigenous communities.