Guatemala is a multiparty constitutional republic. In January 2016 Jimmy Morales of the National Convergence Front party was sworn into office for a four-year term as president. International observers considered the presidential election held in 2015 as generally free and fair.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.
The most significant human rights issues included: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; corruption and intimidation of judges; threats against journalists, including by criminal organizations and corrupt public officials, resulting in significant self-censorship; widespread government corruption; violence against persons with disabilities in public care; cases of killing of women because of their gender, which authorities were prosecuting; police violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; trafficking in persons; children engaged in the worst forms of child labor; and violence and threats against trade unionists and labor activists.
Corruption and inadequate investigation made prosecution difficult, and impunity continued to be widespread. Parts of the government collaborated with the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to strengthen the rule of law and prosecute officials who committed abuses. On August 27, however, President Jimmy Morales declared CICIG commissioner Ivan Velasquez persona non grata, negatively affecting domestic and international confidence in the administration’s commitment to anti-impunity and anticorruption efforts. The Constitutional Court blocked the expulsion order, and Commissioner Velasquez remained in his position.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including of the press, and the government generally respected these rights. The intimidation of journalists resulted in significant self-censorship, however.
Press and Media Freedom: There were no legal restrictions on the editorial independence of the media. Reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship, recognizing the danger investigative journalism posed to them and their families. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.
Violence and Harassment: Members of the press continued to report violence and impunity impaired the practice of free and open journalism. Members of the press reported numerous threats by public officials, and criminal organizations increased journalists’ sense of vulnerability.
According to the Public Ministry, 40 complaints were filed for attacks or threats against journalists, and three journalists were killed from January through the middle of September, compared with 87 complaints and eight killings in all of 2016.
The investigation remained open at year’s end regarding the 2016 killing of radio journalist Alvaro Alfredo Aceituno Lopez.
On November 7, the Supreme Court lifted the parliamentary immunity of congressman Julio Antonio Juarez Ramirez based on allegations from the Public Ministry and CICIG that he ordered the killing of journalist Danilo Efrain Zapon Lopez in 2015 in Mazatenango, Suchitepequez. Journalist Federico Benjamin Salazar Geronimo was also killed in the attack and reporter Marvin Tunches was injured. On October 12, Sergio Waldemar Cardona Reyes and German Morataya were convicted and sentenced to 30 and two years in prison, respectively, for their involvement in the Lopez killing.
The Public Ministry employed a unit dedicated to the investigation of threats and attacks against journalists. The NGO Center for Reporting in Guatemala noted that the unit had few resources.
Civil society organizations reported that sexual harassment of female journalists was widespread but rarely reported.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported receiving pressure, threats, and retribution from various public officials regarding the content of their reporting. Some owners and members of media also accused the government of following a discriminatory advertising policy that penalized or rewarded print and broadcast media based on whether the government perceived the news or commentary as supportive or critical.
The online newsmagazine Nomada reported threats against individual reporters and magazine leadership. Editors used armored vehicles due to fear of attack. After reporting on undisclosed bonuses given by the Ministry of Defense to President Morales, Nomada’s website was targeted in a denial-of-service attack for several days. Nomada published the story on its Facebook account until service was restored. Nomada had experienced similar attacks previously.
Nongovernmental Impact: Organized crime exerted influence over media outlets and reporters, frequently threatening individuals for reporting on criminal activities.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 35 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were reports, however, of significant barriers to organizing in the labor sector (see section 7.a.).
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. An immigration law passed in September 2016 overhauled the country’s migration system and defined the term “refugee” as well as listing refugees’ rights in accordance with international instruments. The preparation of regulations to implement the law, including on the refugee application process and refugee rights, was underway at year’s end.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
The country does not have laws in place to protect internally displaced persons in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR expressed concern regarding violence against IDPs and strengthened its efforts to monitor the problem and provide assistance to the displaced. The country does not officially recognize the existence of IDPs within its borders, with the exception of those displaced by climate change. In June the government evicted an estimated 400 farmers for illegally settling within the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) characterized the evictees as IDPs. Media and civil society reported that the evictees did not receive government assistance in a timely manner.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country approved 39 refugee applications from January through September. The number of asylum applications from El Salvador increased between 2016 and 2017. UNHCR, however, reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate. Both migration and police authorities lacked awareness of the rules for establishing refugee status.
UNHCR reported that access to education for refugees was challenging due to the country’s sometimes onerous requirements for access to formal education, including documentation from the country of origin.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, many of which the Public Ministry and CICIG investigated and prosecuted on charges including money laundering, illegal political party financing, and bribery.
Corruption: On July 17, the CICIG and Public Ministry brought charges against Julio Ligorria, former ambassador to the United States, and Alejandro Sinibaldi, former communications minister, in connection with a wide-reaching corruption investigation of jailed former president Otto Perez Molina. According to the investigators, Ligorria and Sinibaldi organized a network of construction companies to funnel two million dollars from a telecommunications company to support the election campaigns of Perez Molina’s Patriotic Party. Sinibaldi was linked with several additional cases of bribery and influence trafficking during the Perez Molina administration. Spanish authorities arrested Ligorria in Madrid in September. Sinibaldi remained a fugitive.
On February 2, at the request of the Public Ministry and CICIG, congress revoked the immunity of Supreme Court Justice Blanca Aida Stalling Davila. On February 8, she was arrested on influence peddling charges for pressuring the judge overseeing a criminal case against her son. Since May 2016, three Supreme Court justices were removed from office to face criminal charges.
Financial Disclosure: Public officials who earn more than 8,000 quetzales ($1,090) per month or who manage public funds are subject to financial disclosure laws overseen and enforced by the Comptroller General’s Office. The financial disclosures were available to the public upon request. Administrative and criminal sanctions apply for inadequate or falsified disclosures of assets.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and sets penalties between five and 50 years in prison. Police had minimal training or capacity to investigate sexual crimes or assist survivors of such crimes, and the government did not enforce the law effectively.
Rape and other sexual offenses remained serious problems. The government took steps to combat femicide and violence against women. The judiciary maintained a 24-hour court in Guatemala City to offer services related to violence directed toward women, including sexual assault, exploitation, and trafficking of women and children. The judiciary also operated specialized courts for violence against women throughout the country, but not in every department. On November 22, the Public Ministry established a special prosecutor for femicide.
The law establishes penalties for femicide of 25 to 50 years in prison without the possibility of reducing the sentence; however, femicide remained a significant problem.
Violence against women, including sexual and domestic violence, remained serious problems. The law establishes penalties of five to eight years for physical, economic, and psychological violence committed against women because of their gender. The PNC often failed to respond to requests for assistance related to domestic violence.
Sexual Harassment: No single law, including laws against sexual violence, deals directly with sexual harassment, although several laws refer to it. Human rights organizations reported sexual harassment was widespread.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .
Discrimination: Although the law establishes the principle of gender equality and criminalizes discrimination, women faced discrimination and were less likely to hold management positions.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country’s territory or from their parents. UNICEF described low birth registration as a “serious problem,” and UNHCR reported problems in registering births were especially acute in indigenous communities due to inadequate government registration and documentation systems. Lack of registration restricted children’s access to some public services and created conditions that could lead to statelessness.
Education: While primary education is compulsory through age 14, access was limited in many rural areas; education through the secondary level is not obligatory.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. A unit under the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Children and Adolescents handled child abuse cases. The Public Ministry reported 2,571 reports of minor abuse of all types and 16 convictions from January through August.
As of September, 520 children and adolescents lived in shelters run by the Secretariat for Social Welfare (SBS). Overcrowding was common in shelters.
On several occasions in 2016, groups of adolescent girls escaped from Hogar Seguro shelter, alleging abuse and mistreatment. On March 7, approximately 60 adolescent girls escaped and, according to media reports, some were apprehended and returned to Hogar Seguro. They were locked in a room and guarded by police. On March 8, one of the girls started a fire inside the room in protest, resulting in the deaths of 41 girls and severe burns to 14 others.
At year’s end seven persons had been charged in relation to the deaths of the 41 girls, including former SBS secretary Carlos Rodas, former deputy secretary for protection and shelter Anahi Keller, and former shelter director Santos Torres. On April 7, they were charged with murder, abuse of authority, breach of duty, abuse against minors, and serious injury. On April 28, the SBS announced the closure of the shelter and plans to renovate it into a facility to house juvenile offenders.
For additional information, see Appendix C.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriages in some rural indigenous communities. UNICEF reported 30 percent of women ages 20 to 24 years were first married or in union by age 18 (7 percent of them by age 15) between 2008 and 2014.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides sentences ranging from 13 to 24 years in prison, depending on the victim’s age, for engaging in sex with a minor. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18.
The law prohibits child pornography and establishes penalties of six to 10 years in prison for producing, promoting, and selling child pornography and two to four years’ imprisonment for possessing it. The Public Ministry and PNC conducted several raids against alleged online child pornography networks. The commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child sex tourism, remained a problem.
Displaced Children: Criminals and gangs often recruited street children, many of them victims of domestic abuse, for purposes of stealing, transporting contraband, prostitution, and conducting illegal drug activities. The NGO Mutual Support Group reported 683 minors suffered violent deaths nationwide from January through August. NGOs dealing with gangs and other youth reported youth detained by police were subject to abusive treatment, including physical assaults.
The SBS, responsible for the care of both returned migrant children and unaccompanied foreign migrant children, reported seven cases of sexual abuse of children under its care during the year.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Jewish population numbered approximately 1,500 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
In April a court found the former mayor of San Juan La Laguna, Antonio Adolfo Perez y Perez, guilty of forcing out a community of ultraorthodox Jews in 2014 and sentenced him to one year in prison.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution contains no specific prohibitions against discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law, however, mandates equal access to public facilities and provides some other legal protections. In many cases, however, the law was not enforced. The law does not mandate that persons with disabilities have access to information or communications.
The National Council for Persons with Disabilities reported few persons with disabilities attended educational institutions or held jobs. The council, composed of representatives of relevant government ministries and agencies, is the principal government entity responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Most schools and universities did not have facilities accessible to persons with disabilities.
The Federico Mora National Hospital for Mental Health, the only public health-care provider for persons with mental illness, lacked basic supplies, equipment, hygienic living conditions, and adequate professional staff. Media reported mistreatment of residents, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence by other residents, guards, and hospital staff, especially with respect to women and children with disabilities. Multiple legal actions were pending against the hospital.
The government’s National Institute of Statistics estimated indigenous persons from 22 ethnic groups comprised 44 percent of the population. The law provides for equal rights for indigenous persons and obliges the government to recognize, respect, and promote the lifestyles, customs, traditions, social organizations, and manner of dress of indigenous persons. The government does not recognize particular indigenous groups as having a special legal status provided by national law.
Indigenous representatives claimed actors in a number of regional development projects failed to consult meaningfully with local communities. In some cases indigenous communities were not regularly or adequately consulted or able to participate in decisions affecting the exploitation of resources in their communities, including energy, minerals, timber, rivers, or other natural resources. They also lacked effective mechanisms for dialogue with the state to resolve conflicts. During the year courts suspended the operating licenses of several hydroelectric and mining projects for not complying with requirements for consultations with indigenous communities prior to project implementation as required by International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169, recognizing the convention’s requirement that the government must play a role in the process. Previously, businesses carried out consultations independently without government oversight.
Indigenous communities were underrepresented in national politics and remained largely outside the political, economic, social, and cultural mainstream. This was mainly due to limited educational opportunities (contrary to law), limited communication regarding their rights, and pervasive discrimination. These factors contributed to disproportionate poverty among most indigenous populations.
Indigenous lands lacked effective demarcation, making the legal recognition of titles to the land problematic. Indigenous rights advocates asserted that pervasive ignorance by security authorities of indigenous norms and practices engendered misunderstandings. PNC and indigenous leaders in the village of Salacuim, Alta Verapaz, worked together to establish a model police precinct to better serve the 100 percent indigenous community, prevent and reduce violence, and establish rule of law.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The country’s antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTI individuals. LGBTI rights groups stated that police officers regularly engaged in extortion and harassed male and transgender individuals they believed to be sex workers. There was general societal discrimination against LGBTI persons in access to education, health care, employment, and housing. The government undertook minimal efforts to address this discrimination. Sandra Moran, the first openly lesbian member of Congress, was harassed and intimidated based on her sexual orientation. Online campaigns calling for her removal from congress based solely on her orientation were constant and increased in September after her vote to remove immunity from President Morales.
According to LGBTI rights groups, gay and transgender individuals often experienced police abuse.
LGBTI groups claimed women experienced specific forms of discrimination such as forced marriages and forced pregnancies through “corrective rape,” although these incidents were rarely, if ever, reported to authorities. In addition transgender individuals faced severe discrimination.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The law does not expressly include HIV/AIDS status among the categories prohibited from discrimination. There was societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Forms of discrimination included being required by government authorities to reveal HIV/AIDS test results to receive certain public benefits or from employers in order to be hired. In addition HIV/AIDS patients experienced discrimination from medical personnel when receiving treatment in public hospitals and had their right to confidentiality violated by disclosure of their status. Discrimination against LGBTI persons with HIV/AIDS was common and affected their access to HIV-prevention programs.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Several times vigilante mobs attacked and killed those suspected of crimes such as rape, kidnapping, theft, or extortion. The NGO Mutual Support Group reported nine persons were killed in public lynchings and 38 were injured through May.