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Guatemala 2023

Civic space and freedom of expression were curtailed. There was widespread criminalization of judges, prosecutors, human rights defenders, journalists and key actors in the electoral process, forcing them into exile. The authorities stigmatized and failed to protect protesters demanding the resignation of the attorney general. Violations of the rights of women, LGBTI people and Indigenous Peoples persisted.


The electoral process in 2023 was beset with irregularities. Some Supreme Electoral Tribunal magistrates and several members of Semilla, the winning party of the presidential elections, were targeted with criminal lawsuits. The Semilla party was temporarily suspended, and in December, the Prosecutor’s Office requested to lift the immunity of the newly elected president and vice-president. Various members of the international community denounced this persecution as undermining the rights to participation in public affairs and rule of law.

High levels of inequality, poverty and violence remained the main reasons for the forced migration of thousands of people from the country.

Freedom of expression and assembly

In October, thousands of people around the country took to the streets to protest at the criminal prosecution of key actors in the electoral process. These peaceful mass protests, convened by Indigenous authorities to demand the resignation of the attorney general, paralysed the country for more than three weeks. The government and the Constitutional Court stigmatized the protesters.1 According to local organizations, the authorities also failed to protect protesters against intimidation and attacks by armed individuals in several parts of the country, which left at least one person dead in the town of Malacatán in San Marcos municipality.

In October, a court overturned the six-year prison sentence handed down in June against journalist José Ruben Zamora, who in spite of this remained in detention at the end of the year. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and international organizations had denounced violations of his rights to due process and judicial guarantees.

Arbitrary detention and unfair trials

International and regional human rights bodies expressed concerns about the lack of independence of the judiciary and the arbitrary actions by the Public Prosecutor’s Office against people who were fighting impunity and corruption, as well as key actors in the electoral process. At the end of the year, at least 79 prosecutors, judges, human rights defenders and journalists were in exile for fear of being unjustly imprisoned.

In May, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared the detention of former anti-corruption prosecutor Virginia Laparra arbitrary and demanded her release. In December, the Supreme Court of Justice ordered that she be granted domiciliary arrest because she had already spent half of the sentence in jail. In addition, a  second criminal proceeding against her was pending at the end of the year.2

Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders continued to carry out their activities in a hostile and high-risk environment. The Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) reported 5,965 attacks against human rights defenders between January and November, including threats, killings, harassment and arbitrary detentions. Criminalization increased, particularly against those involved in the fight against impunity and corruption. Human rights defender Claudia González, wrongly accused of the crime of abuse of authority, was released on bail after two months in detention.3


There was little progress in the investigation and prosecution of human rights violations and war crimes perpetrated during the internal armed conflict between 1960 and 1996. A bill that would grant amnesty for those suspected of criminal responsibility for these crimes advanced in Congress. It was still pending approval at the end of the year.

Women’s and girls’ rights

Levels of violence against women and girls remained high. Local organizations reported difficulties in accessing justice for women survivors of gender-based violence.

The CEDAW Committee raised concerns about the criminalization of abortion in Guatemala, where it was only permitted if the life of the pregnant woman was at risk, and the limited access to safe abortion and post-abortion services. High rates of child pregnancy remained of particular concern. Between January and October, the Observatory on Sexual and Reproductive Health recorded 52,878 births to girls and young women aged between 10 and 19.

LGBTI people’s rights

LGBTI people faced high levels of violence and discrimination. According to the National LGBTIQ+ Human Rights Observatory, at least 34 people were killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity during the year. Same-sex marriage remained illegal.

Indigenous Peoples’ rights

Indigenous Peoples continued to demand that their rights to their lands be recognized. In a context of insecure land tenure, violent evictions were reported. Ancestral authorities and those who defend land and territory faced unfounded criminal charges.

Right to a healthy environment

The National Climate Change Fund, created in 2022, was still not operating by the end of the year.

The authorities warned that droughts and floods, linked to the impacts of El Niño and aggravated by climate change, could exacerbate malnutrition.

  1. “Guatemala: Peaceful protesters face imminent risks”, 12 October
  2. “Guatemala: Prisoner of conscience Virginia Laparra has now been arbitrarily detained in prison for one year”, 23 February
  3. “Guatemala: Freedom for Claudia González”, 12 September (Spanish only)