The consolidation of authoritarianism and the increase in attacks against people, organisations and communities that defend human rights

UDEFEGUA recently released a briefing on the situation in Guatemala regarding attacks against human rights defenders.

Any errors in translation are mine.


The Protection Unit for Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (La Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala -UDEFEGUA) expresses its concerns over the increase of attacks against people, organisations and communities that defend human rights this year. For 20 years, UDEFEGUA has noted and documented the violence happening against those who defend human rights in the country and on that account, we have evidenced and recorded a total of 1,004 attacks during the period from January to 15th December 2020.

It was during 2014 that UDEFEGUA documented the largest quantity of attacks against people, organisations and communities that defend human rights, recording a total of 820 violent events. However, with 15 days to the end of 2020, this figure has already been exceeded by 184 cases in this dreadful year. This violence has arisen in a year marked by a change in government and by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. While the statistics tell us that for the first year of government of the various presidents since 2000, violence against the human rights community has reduced considerably, this year has been the opposite. The government of Alejandro Giammattei has driven the consolidation of authoritarianism and the closing of space for democratic participation, with him implementing repressive policies against those who oppose his interests.

In reality, the present government has shut down the ‘institutionality’ of peace, of human rights, as well as those few, and weak, existing protection mechanisms. In turn, and against all logic, the pandemic and the failed government response to it, would have meant a significant decrease in violence. However, the recording and evidencing of attacks, shows that this period was used to repress, to abuse, to assault those defending human rights in the country.

Of the 1,004 attacks, 33.66% (338) were noted against human rights defenders, 52.87% (530) against attorneys, and 13.54% (136) against groups, organisations and communities. Of the total, UDEFEGUA regrets that 15 human rights defenders were assassinated, in addition to 22 assassination attempts, and condemns the strategy of criminalisation, the extent of which is evidenced by 313 examples.

We also denounce the repression, the abuse of authority, police brutality, and the criminalisation of the right to gather and demonstrate peacefully as exercised by the population. A population, tired of the corruption and impunity, and overwhelmed by the poverty, the unemployment, and the lack of access to vital human rights such as food or housing, have come out to demand the transformation of the system that enables these tragic circumstances.

The Departments with the highest recording of violence against human rights defenders are Guatemala, Izabal, Alta Verapaz, Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango, Sololá and Chiquimula.

UDEFEGUA demands:

1. That the Government of the Republic ceases its policy of repression, violence and criminalisation against people, organisations and communities that defend human rights, including the removal of those responsible in the Interior Ministry, in particular, the Minister, Gendry Reyes and the Vice-Minister of Security.

2. That the Attorney General’s Office carries out the ‘General Instruction 05-2018 Protocol (Instrucción General 05-2018 Protocolo) for The Investigation of Crimes Committed Against Human Rights Defenders’ to proceed to the investigation, and the criminal pursuit, of those responsible for the attacks against those who defend the rights and fundamental liberties of the people of Guatemala.

3. That the joint programmes between the State and Civil Society, to guarantee a protection scheme for all people who defend human rights in the country are resumed and, especially, to restart the process of the development of the ‘Public Policy for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders’.

4. That the International Community increases its observation and documentation of these events, as well as denouncing them, and demands that the Guatemala state ceases the violence, and cuts the impunity for the crimes committed against human rights defenders.


The original, in Spanish, can be found here on the UDEFEGUA website.



Categories: Corruption, Criminalisation, Gender, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Justice, Poverty, Report, Violence

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