IACHR Urges State of Guatemala to Guarantee Right to Participate in General Elections and Avoid Undue Interference

July 21, 2023

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over interference in the electoral process in Guatemala, given the lack of independence of the Public Prosecutor's Office and Attorney General.

The IACHR urged the State of Guatemala to safeguard the principle of the separation of powers and guarantee the right to participate in government in accordance with national and inter-American standards, avoiding undue interference, and to respect the "popular will expressed by the Guatemalan people" in the primary elections, in the words of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission in the country.

On July 12, 2023, the Office of the Special Public Prosecutor Targeting Impunity announced that an investigation would be launched into the political party Movimiento Semilla over the alleged falsification of signatures in the documentation presented to establish it, according to public information. On the same day, at the request of the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Seventh National Criminal Trial Court ordered the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to provisionally suspend the party's legal status to prevent its members from "participating in any political events" or appointing any positions. On July 13, FECI agents carried out a "raid, inspection, search, and seizure of evidence" at the headquarters of the TSE Citizen Registry.

That same day, the TSE ratified the validity of the first round of the presidential election, which had taken place on June 25. It also announced that the two tickets that won the most votes will go through to the second round: Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) and Movimiento Semilla. Likewise, the Constitutional Court (CC) issued a provisional injunction in which it stated that "the second round of elections will be held on the date indicated and will be between the candidates who were officially announced by the TSE." This decision does not impact the criminal proceedings in any way, so the Public Prosecutor's Office has continued with the investigations. The IACHR has noted the recent arrest warrant for an official of the TSE's Citizen Registry and new raids on its facilities. Arrest warrants have also been issued for members of Movimiento Semilla, whose headquarters were raided today, according to official information.

After emphatically denying this press release, the State of Guatemala informed the IACHR that the Public Prosecutor's Office is conducting a criminal investigation into Movimiento Semilla as part of its duty to determine whether a crime has been committed and ascertain who is responsible for it, in accordance with its legal functions and constitutional mandate. It also indicated that this investigation is completely independent of the second round in the presidential election, which is going ahead as announced by the TSE. Likewise, it noted that the second round of the presidential elections is not a reason for the Public Prosecutor's Office to refrain from exercising its legal powers. Finally, it noted that in its provisional appeal before the CC, Movimiento Semilla has not requested that the powers of the Public Prosecutor's Office be suspended.

The IACHR noted with concern that the order to suspend Movimiento Semilla contravenes Guatemala's Electoral and Political Parties Act, which expressly states that"a party may not be suspended after an election has been called and until it has been held" The arbitrary or illegal exclusion of candidates jeopardizes the right to participate in government and the electorate's free expression of its will, which may lead to serious consequences for democratic rule.

The order to suspend Movimiento Semilla was issued at a time when complaints were being made over interference in the electoral process by the judiciary and the Public Prosecutor's Office. In March 2023, the IACHR drew attention to the importance of guaranteeing political rights, pluralism, and equal participation in the electoral process in Guatemala.

The electoral observation missions run by the OAS and the EU have expressed their concern regarding the"intense judicialization" of the electoral process following decisions that resulted in the exclusion of a large number of candidates, the more-than-two-week delay in announcing the results of the first round following a CC injunction, and the overall erosion of the credibility of the elections.

Specifically, the European Union Election Observation Mission noted that the 2023 general elections were held "in a context of a serious deterioration of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, together with severe restrictions on freedoms of expression and of the press."

The Inter-American Democratic Charter recognizes that the "essential elements of representative democracy include, inter alia, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people, the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government."

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate stems from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as an advisory body to the OAS on the matter. The IACHR is made up of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 163/23

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