GUATEMALA CITY (HPD) — The State of Guatemala defended itself before the UN on Tuesday against national and international criticism of repeated human rights violations, during the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland. Given the accusations of criminalization against justice operators, human rights defenders and journalists, the country said that it has taken actions to improve the situation.
After the presentation of the country report made by Guatemalan officials, the international community began to express its concern in the public forum about the situation of vulnerable groups such as women or the LGBTIQ+ community, as well as about the cases of persecution and criminalization of judges and prosecutors who investigated corruption and the violation of the right to freedom of expression and the press. They also stressed the reality of poverty and violence that surrounds women, girls and boys.
Countries like France, Germany, Costa Rica, Italy, Spain, among others, expressed their concern about the criminalization of justice operators and asked the State to take action against it.
During the government of President Alejandro Giammattei, some 30 justice officials have gone into exile in other countries denouncing that they are being persecuted for having investigated acts of corruption and crimes against humanity committed during the war in the country between 1960-1996.
Ramiro Contreras, executive director of the Presidential Commission for Peace and Human Rights, led the Guatemalan delegation that was made up of government and state officials and employees, representatives and the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, among others.
Contreras recounted the measures that Guatemala has implemented and assured that progress in the field of human rights in the country is reflected in macroeconomic and social statistics, figures to which he did not refer.
“Guatemala is a pioneer in the region in the attention to populations whose rights are violated with the implementation through a systemic approach of three models of attention to victims,” he said, referring to the protocols that serve to give attention and assist children and adolescents whose rights are violated, issues related to juvenile criminal justice and women victims of violence.
Instead, the representative of Spain highlighted the lack of effective compliance with some recommendations from the previous review and recommended “taking measures to guarantee respect for judicial and fiscal independence, so that they can carry out their work without external pressure.”
On nutrition issues, Contreras stressed that during the three years of Giammattei’s government, the budget for attention to this issue rose from 830 million dollars to 1,303 million dollars.
Regarding migration, one of the areas that worries the international community, Contreras said that in 2020 the National Institute of Migration began to function and that since then it has provided refuge and protection to 2,406 migrants from other countries.
The Russian delegate joined the recommendations and recalled that the violation of human rights in the country is complicated due to impunity, high crime rates and the absence of protection mechanisms.
One of the criticisms regarding human rights has been that the Guatemalan Congress has not elected a new Supreme Court of Justice or appeals magistrates for three years, and that the system has been accused of favoring politicians accused of corruption. Human rights defenders denounce that this fosters impunity.
Guatemalan representative Boris España, sanctioned by the US for obstructing the fight against corruption and undermining democracy in the country, was commissioned to represent Congress at the United Nations. He defended that what was required, such as scheduling the discussion to choose cuts, has been met, despite the fact that this is pending. Spain also said that the budget for the Human Rights Ombudsman, the entity in charge of receiving complaints of violations, was increased by 100 percent.
Ángel Pineda, general secretary of the Public Ministry, one of the most criticized state entities, said that all complaints that enter the institution are received and investigated. However, it is this institution that the exiled justice operators and human rights defenders hold responsible for criminalization.
Pineda was sanctioned in September 2021 by the United States government for obstructing the fight against corruption and undermining democracy in the country, and his visa to enter that country was withdrawn.
The Universal Periodic Review evaluates every 4.5 years the situation of the country in terms of human rights and subsequently renders a final report that is presented in the plenary session of the UN Human Rights Council.
Jorge Santos, from the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders-Guatemala UDEFEGUA, told The Associated Press that if Guatemala is evaluated between lights and shadows, the latter stand out because there are serious setbacks in the protection of human rights.
“Guatemala has made few efforts that, in a country where impunity reigns, have been falling, even the actors who represent the Guatemalan State are notable people, lies have been told in their report, especially actions in the field of education , justice system…”, Santos said.
A coalition of Human Rights organizations at a press conference rejected the Guatemalan government’s report and said that they will continue to wait to verify compliance and denounce non-compliance with the recommendations made by the countries.