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Paul, Weiss and Vance Center Issue Report on Threats to Guatemalan Civil Society Posed by New Law

July 29, 2020

Paul, Weiss and Vance Center issued a high-impact report on July 29 highlighting threats to freedom of association under international law in Guatemala posed by new law that increases government controls over society. The report, Guatemala: Revisions to the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations - Analysis Under the International Human Right to Freedom of Association, available in English and Spanish, reviews the changes in light of international human rights law, including the government’s substantial discretion over the cancellation of organizations and its increased control over their activities; the creation of criminal and civil liability for directors of NGOs; and the imposition of new, unnecessary and onerous reporting requirements.

The Alliance for Reforms in Guatemala, a coalition of 35 civil society organizations, research centers and urban groups working to strengthen democratic rule of law in the country, commissioned the report for its effort to challenge the constitutionality of the revisions to existing law. The changes, known as Decree 4-2020, were proposed in 2017 by a member of the country’s ruling political party to increase government control over the work of civil society. Even when international human rights bodies warned of the risks to freedom of association, the legislative process advanced, culminating in the insertion of the revisions into coronavirus-related legislation in February 2020; the changes were approved without discussion, and the country’s president signed it into law. Various NGOs, human rights defenders, and opposition parties in Congress filed constitutional claims, and on March 2, the Constitutional Court issued a provisional injunction preventing the law from going into effect. A hearing on the merits is pending.

Analyzing the revisions to the Guatemalan NGO Law, the report observes that many of the specific changes are similar to restrictions in the legislation of other countries that have previously been struck down by courts or condemned by human rights organizations as violating freedom of association. The report studies standards from the United Nations human rights bodies as well as regional human rights organizations. According to the report, the Guatemalan revisions threaten to dissuade the formation of new NGOs and discourage NGO opposition to policies and practices of the government. The changes may not have been properly legislated and are too vague, giving the government wide discretionary power to invoke “public order” to restrict freedom of association, without clearly defined and tailored limits for its application, the report finds.

The Paul, Weiss team included litigation associate Miguel Zamora. Litigation partner Liza Velazquez supervised the project.

» read the report

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