IACHR and Its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression Reject Persistent Criminalization and Abuse of Authority for Political and Electoral Purposes in Guatemala

November 18, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression reject the abuse of authority by Guatemala's Public Prosecutor's Office, perpetrated through constant interference and other unwarranted actions. These actions entail an attack on democratic order, on the ongoing transfer of presidential power, and on the individual and collective exercise of civil and political liberties in the country.

On November 16, the Public Prosecutor's Office said it had launched an investigation into events linked to the student protests and occupation of San Carlos de Guatemala University (USAC) that took place over the period May 19, 2022–June 9, 2023. In those protests, the student community denounced irregularities in the process of electing the university's new chancellor.

The Public Prosecutor's Office said that USAC suffered material damage worth 90 million Quetzal (USD 11.5 million). The Public Prosecutor's Office further said that the real purpose of occupying university facilities had been to commit "crimes aimed at putting forward and supporting candidates who represented specific political parties for [Guatemala's] highest elected positions, those of president and vice president, members of Congress, and others."

Later, through its department for crimes against the country's cultural heritage, the Public Prosecutor's Office said it had requested 31 search warrants and 27 arrest warrants against university student leaders and academic staff and against Guatemala's former public prosecutor for human rights Jordán Rodas, among other individuals, for charges including continued aggravated usurpation, continued plunder of cultural property, and criminal conspiracy. By November 16, five individuals had been arrested: Rodolfo Chang Shium, Eduardo Antonio Velásquez Carrera, Alfredo Beber Aceituno, Javier Alfonso de León Gómez, and former Semilla party Congressional candidate Marcela Blanco Fuentes.

Also on November 16, the Public Prosecutor's Office reported that it had filed requests to lift the immunity of five legislators belonging to the Semilla, VOS, and Winaq political parties and of President-Elect Bernardo Arévalo and Vice President-Elect Karin Herrera, based on comments they had allegedly made on social media about the occupation of USAC.

The IACHR notes with concern that these requests to lift the immunity of Guatemala's President-Elect and Vice President-Elect were filed in a broadly documented context with repeated interference by the Public Prosecutor's Office in the country's general election and in the ongoing transfer of power, using criminal law to that effect. The IACHR further notes with concern the risk posed by this interference for the inauguration of the President-Elect chosen at the polls in an expression of the sovereign will of the people, which seriously weakens the separation of powers and deepens political instability in Guatemala.

"These decisions by the [Public Prosecutor's Office] constitute actions of a political nature that distort the electoral process and may affect its outcome and are therefore absolutely inappropriate and unacceptable for a democratic political system," said the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Respect for human rights; access to power and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law; periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people; and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government are all essential elements of representative democracy, according to Article 3 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The IACHR stresses that "a democratic system goes beyond election processes and is also expressed through the legitimate exercise of power, framed by the rule of law, which includes respect for the various elements, components, and attributes of democracy."

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression stress their call for an end to the interference of the Public Prosecutor's Office, which is an attack on democratic order and on the sovereign will of the Guatemalan people. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship call on Guatemala to comply with its international obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Finally, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression urge the State to protect and respect the presidential transition process.

A principal, autonomous body of the 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. 268/23

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