Guatemala: IACHR Urges State to Respect Constitutional Order

October 4, 2023

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged the State of Guatemala to respect the outcomes of the general elections and cease the actions of the Public Prosecutor's Office that jeopardize the constitutional order and the independence of the branches of government.

On September 29, the Special Prosecutor's Office against Corruption, which is part of the Public Prosecutor's Office, conducted another raid on the headquarters of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. This resulted in the theft of more than 125,000 documents and original records of the general elections. According to the Public Prosecutor's Office, these proceedings were conducted in accordance with the law, the Constitution, and in compliance with a judge's order as part of a case being prosecuted under seal.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal noted that the raid is part of a "series of intimidating actions that seek to undermine the integrity of democracy and cast doubt on election results that have already been officially confirmed." These included a request to strip the judges and deputy judges of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of their immunity from prosecution for allegedly committing the crimes of fraud, breach of duty, and abuse of authority. There were also threats to initiate criminal proceedings against other officials of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

According to the OAS Electoral Observation Mission (EOM/OAS), this raid on the headquarters of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the fifth to have been conducted since the elections, was "carried out without due justification and constituted an attack on the functions, independence, and autonomy of the electoral body." It added that the Public Prosecutor's Office's continual hounding of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal without clear reasons or motives "constitutes a political persecution reminiscent of those carried out by authoritarian regimes." It went on to say that "The actions of the Public Prosecutor's Office are an intolerable violation of Guatemala's Constitution (...)" that is "altering the constitutional order," and that there are no factors that cast doubt on the electoral results.

The IACHR noted that a number of situations point to the progressive deterioration of democratic institutions, the rule of law, and the human rights situation in Guatemala. These include continual interference in the electoral process in the form of interpretations of regulations and practices that effectively prevented individuals and political parties from taking part in the elections, the delay of more than two weeks in announcing the results of the first round of the elections, the attempt to suspend the registration as a legal entity of the Semilla Movement to prevent its members from being awarded public positions and the raid on its headquarters. Other matters of concern include the issuing of an arrest warrant against an official of the Citizen Registry at the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, raids and threats targeting judges of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and the initiation of impeachment proceedings against them. There have also been threats to the life and physical integrity of Bernardo Arévalo de León and Karin Herrera Aguilar, the presidential ticket of the Semilla Movement, which resulted in the IACHR granting precautionary measures.

By including Guatemala in Chapter IV of its annual reports for 2021 and 2022, which concerns States whose grave human rights situation merits a special report, the IACHR alerted the international community to the lack of independence of the Public Prosecutor's Office, the intensification of judicial persecution, criminalization, and the abuse of impeachment proceedings to intimidate and remove from office those responsible for the investigation and prosecution of cases related to the internal armed conflict and high-profile acts of corruption, in order to favor power structures and groups interested in ensuring impunity. The IACHR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression also warned of the continued deterioration of guarantees for exercising freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Guatemala. This state of affairs owes particularly to the intensification of criminalization, harassment, and smear campaigns on social media targeting journalists who investigate matters of public interest and people who play a significant role in scrutinizing public power and who contribute to the transparency, accountability, and citizen oversight of the functioning of the State.

The IACHR noted that 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."

In its response to this press release, the State of Guatemala reiterated that the Public Ministry is the autonomous body in charge of carrying out criminal prosecution, a "technical and apolitical entity, whose proceedings in the specific case have been carried out within the corresponding legal framework and in order to determine the truth in the event of the possible commission of a crime and defend the rights of the complainants, as well as the citizens." Likewise, it pointed out that the FECI, in compliance with the law, carried out a search at the TSE headquarters and that the ongoing criminal investigation in no way intends to alter the results of the general elections in Guatemala. It reiterated that the impeachment proceeding is a prerogative designed "to ensure the guarantees of the role and when applicable, judicial independence." The State indicated that all judicial resolutions issued in the case have been duly substantiated and issued by the corresponding judiciary. Finally, the State indicated that this type of communication can put at risk "the results and independence of the investigations that are underway."

Democracy and the rule of law are necessary conditions to achieve the validity and respect of human rights. In that understanding, the IACHR urged the State of Guatemala to respect and guarantee the results of the elections, which were held freely and fairly, and to immediately cease the interference of the Public Prosecutor's Office, which threatens the democratic order and the sovereign will of the population, in order to comply with its international obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 239/23

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