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February 26, 2024

Human Rights for All: ABA ROLI Building the Rule of Law in Guatemala

Since the expulsion of the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Spanish, Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) in 2019, the Guatemalan government’s dismantling of the rule of law has fueled a new cycle of abuses against justice officials, human rights defenders (HRDs), journalists, Indigenous Peoples, and civil society at large. Patterns of violence, corruption, and land dispossession have roots going back decades, most notably to a 36-year-long armed conflict from 1960-1996 and genocide perpetrated against Indigenous groups in the 1980s.

According to the Guatemalan human rights observatory Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos (English, Protection Unit for Human Rights Defenders), the number of attacks against HRDs in 2022 rose to more than 3,500—three times higher than those recorded in 2020 and 2021, and seven times higher than in 2019. The lack of public policies to protect defenders and the issuance of restrictive laws have further fostered an environment hostile to human rights. Notably, transgender persons in Guatemala face high levels of violence and intersecting forms of discrimination. The absence of laws and policies to protect LGBTQI+ individuals and guarantee legal gender recognition based on self-identification fuels this context and is leading to greater economic precarity.

The recent presidential election of Bernardo Arévalo, who won on an anti-corruption ticket with support from a broad cross-section of urban and rural society, including both Mayan and non-Indigenous communities, holds promise for a new grassroots movement with the potential to replicate the multiracial and multiclass coalitions that emerged during the past armed conflict. However, Guatemala’s Congress remains dominated by the country's political elite’s Vamos (English, Let's Go) party and the Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (English, National Unity of Hope) party, and Arévalo and his Movimiento Semilla party will likely face constant governance challenges. 

Leveraging the change in leadership, the momentum of civil society and marginalized groups’ recent mobilization, and recent United States Government diplomatic pressure provides the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), Center for Human Rights, and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) an opportunity to promote democracy and stability and push back against the trend of authoritarianism in neighboring countries. In this effort, ABA ROLI and USAID signed an agreement to implement the Guatemala Human Rights for All (HRA) project. The new five-year project seeks to enhance the enabling environment for preventing human rights abuses, improve the protection of human rights, and collaborate with civil society and Government of Guatemala entities to respond to human rights abuses. 

By supporting Guatemalan human rights organizations, including Indigenous groups, as well as private sector groups and civil society advocates, the HRA project aims to promote collaboration among these entities while strengthening their resilience against human rights violations. Through encouraging international pressure and advocacy, the project seeks to stop or reduce the exodus of justice sector actors and HRDs. By promoting the maximization of legal mechanisms, it will also aim to combat impunity for human rights violations and corruption. Finally, by collaborating with government entities, the project will strive to foster inclusivity and responsiveness to the needs of their community and citizens. Through these efforts, the project endeavors to achieve its goal of improving Guatemala’s protection of human rights and the rule of law.

Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across Latin America and the Caribbean.

This blog is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

The statements and analysis expressed in this paper are solely those of the author. The Board of Governors of the American Bar Association (ABA) has neither reviewed nor sanctioned its contents. Accordingly, the views expressed herein should not be construed as representing the position or policy of the ABA. Furthermore, nothing contained in this paper is to be considered rendering legal advice for specific cases, and readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel.