Coming out of the horrors of its own genocidal civil war and even in the midst of criminal violence and impunity, Guatemala is largely a consistent advocate for human rights in internationals forums. While on the UNHRC for only part of the period studied, Guatemala voted 12 times to condemn human rights abuses in Syria. In the June 2017 OAS General Assembly vote on a resolution to increase pressure on Venezuela, Guatemala voted in favor of the resolution, despite being a member of Venezuela’s Petro-Caribe program.  

But when it comes to addressing concerns within its own country, the government’s position is less consistent. In the last period of the UNHRC’s UPR process we covered, Guatemala accepted half of the human rights recommendations raised by members, and in our first report that covered the IACHR’s 156th session, the Guatemalan government refused to cooperate in all of the four cases argued before the Commission, earning a score of 1.25 out of 3, compared, say, to 2.75 for Colombia. In subsequent hearings and cases, however, the government became more cooperative.

Below is a breakdown of Guatemala’s actions and votes at the various venues we are monitoring. For more information click on each title and summary.


Freedom House   
Freedom Status  Partly Free
Aggregate Score (100 is perfect freedom and protection of rights) 52
Political Rights (scores out of 40, with 40 being the best)  21
Civil Liberties (scores out of 60, with 60 being the best)  31
Reporters Without Borders  
       World Press Freedom Index
Transparency International  
Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 25/100
 Global Rank 149/180
World Justice Project  [1]  
Rule-of-Law Index  0.45
 Regional rank  25/30
 Global rank 101/128
UN Human Development Index  
 Human Development Index (HDI) 0.663
 Global rank 127
Americas Quarterly [2] (last report 2016)  
 Social Inclusion Index 59.98/100
Regional rank  15/15

United Nations System:

United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC or Council)

Guatemala was most recently on the Council from 2011-2013, and previous to that from 2007-2008. It is one of the countries that consistently votes to uphold human rights at the Council on the issue of Syria and North Korea.[expandableHeadline]Read more[/expandableHeadline][expandableContent]

UNHRC Resolutions on the conflict in Syria

 16th Special  Session Situation of Human Rights in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
 17th Special  Session Situation of Human Rights in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
 18th Special  Session Human Rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
 Resolution 19/22  Situation of Human Rights in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
 Resolution  19/01 The escalating grave human rights violations and deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
 Resolution  20/22  Situation of Human Rights in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
 19th Special  Session  The deteriorating human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic and the killings in El-Houleh  voted Yes
Resolution 21/26 Situation of Human Rights in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
Resolution 23/01 The deteriorating situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic, and the recent killings in Al-Qusayr  voted Yes
Resolution 22/24 Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes
Resolution 23/26 The deterioration of the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic, and the need to grant immediate access to the commission of inquiry  voted Yes
Resolution 24/22  The continuing grave deterioration of the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic  voted Yes

UNHRC resolutions on the conflict in North Korea:

 Resolution 7/15 Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea  Abstained
 Resolution 16/08  Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea  voted Yes
 Resolution 19/13  The situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea  Consensus
 Resolution 22/13  Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea  Consensus


UNHRC’s Universal Periodic Review

As part of its mandate to promote human rights around the globe, the UNHRC has instituted a Universal Periodic Review, where, once every four years, each country’s human rights record is examined. Other countries are invited to review the record and make comments and suggestions for improvement. The country under review then acknowledges each comment by either “accepting” the comment, meaning typically that they agree to focus on, or “noting” it, indicating that they disagree and will not be focusing on improvements in this area.

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As recipient: Guatemala received 138 recommendations. Accepted 112, noted 26. (only select topics listed below)

Area Received Accepted Noted
Civil society  3 2  1
Elections  –  –  –
Enforced disappearances  5  5
Extrajudicial executions  1  1
Freedom of association and peaceful assembly  1  1  –
Freedom of opinion and expression  1  1  –
Freedom of religion and belief  –  –  –
Freedom of press  5  4  1
Human rights defenders  7  4  3
Human rights violations by state agents  –  –  –
Impunity  5  5  –
Indigenous peoples  26  16  10
Internally displaced persons  –  –  –
International instruments  22  12  10
Justice  13  11  2
Migrants  –  –  –
Minorities  –  –  –
Racial discrimination  2  1  1
Sexual orientation and gender identity  1  1  –
Torture and CID treatment  3  2  1
Women’s rights  36  34  2
Total 138 112 26

Note: some comments are classified under multiple categories.

As commenter: Guatemala participates in the UPR process, with 200 comments made so far in the 2nd cycle (for data available). Only 26.5% of the comments it made were directed to other Latin American countries, but it consistently made 2-4 comments for most countries around the globe. Ireland (5 comments), Myanmar (5 comments), Samoa (6 comments), Papua New Guinea (7 comments), Sudan (7 comments), and Suriname (7 comments) were exceptions, receiving 5 or more comments from Guatemala.

Main topics of comments included: international instruments (95 comments), migrants (39 comments), special procedure’s (34 comments), women’s rights (27 comments), rights of the child (20 comments)

Note: This data is for the 2nd cycle of the UPR. However, the final round of countries were reviewed in November/December 2016, and that data is not yet available to include in our analysis here.[/expandableContent]

UN NGO Committee

Guatemala has not been on the Committee since at least 1993, though in 2016 on the UN ECOSOC it voted in favoring of certifying a number of NGOs to participate in the council—including the Committee to Project Journalists—which were opposed by Cuba, China, Russia, South Africa, and Venezuela.

Inter-American System:

OAS Permanent Council

Under the new leadership of Secretary General Luis Almagro, the OAS has re-found its focus on promoting democracy around the region. This was shown most clearly in a meeting in June 2016 where Almagro presented his report on the state of democracy in Venezuela and proposed invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

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In the June vote, Guatemala voted in favor of Almagro presenting his report, despite the country being a member of Venezuela’s Petro-Caribe program. The majority of the other members of Petro-Caribe (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Nicaragua, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent) voted with Venezuela and against the presentation of the report.

Once again, Guatemala decided to break away from other member of Petro-Caribe and voted against a CARICOM resolution calling on Venezuela to reconsider withdrawing from the OAS. It instead voted in favor of a U.S.-backed resolution that called for the release of political prisoners and urged the Venezuelan government not to convene a constituent assembly that would rewrite the Venezuelan constitution.  [/expandableContent]

Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR or Commission)

Guatemala has a series of cases before the Commission. And while in the first period covered by our research Guatemala was uncooperative on a number of cases, it later became more helpful—though it has never made any voluntary contributions to the body.

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Hearing Issue Score
174th Human Rights Violations of Defenders in Guatemala and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights to Food and Water in Guatemala
173rd Obstacles, Setbacks, and Challenges for the Advancement of Human Rights in Guatemala
172nd Human Rights of Elderly Peasants in Guatemala and Complaints of Threats to Judicial Independence in Guatemala
171st Evicted and Displaced Settlers of the Laguna Larga Community in Guatemala
169th CICIG’s Role in the Fight Against Corruption and its Impact on the Human Rights Situation in Guatemala, Allegations fo Grave Human Rights Violations Relating to the Disappearance of Social and Peasant Leaders in Guatemala and Rights of Indigenous Qéqchi Maya Families Affected by Forced Evictions in Guatemala
168th Reports of Human Rights Abuses in the Context of Evictions in Guatemala
 164th Reports of Attacks on Human Rights Defenders by Extractive Companies in Guatemala  1/3
164th Reports of Threats to Judicial Independence in Guatemala  2/3
 161st Reports of Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders who Oppose Hydroelectric Projects in Guatemala 3/3
161st Situation of Extra-urban Transport Workers in Guatemala 2/3
159th Right to full reparation for victims of the armed conflict in Guatemala 2.5/3
 159th Follow-up on protection mechanism for human rights defenders in Honduras 3/3
157th /158th Agapito Pérez Lucas, Luis Ruiz, Nicolás Mateo, Macario Pu Chivalán, Guatemala (case)  3/3
 157th /158th Rights of women to a Life Free of Violence in Guatemala   3/3
 157th /158th Right of Children to Food in Guatemala   3/3
156th Transitional Justice 2/3
156th Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders and Justice Operators 1/3
156th Indigenous People in the Context of Palm Oil Industry 2/3
156th Freedom of Expression in Central America 0/3

Voluntary financial contributions to IACHR (as of Sept. 16, 2016) 

Year Contributions by Guatemala Percentage of Total
Contributions to IACHR
2011 $0 0%
2012 $0 0%
2013 $0 0%
2014 $0 0%
2015 $0 0%
2016 $0 0%


Electoral Missions

Guatemala has had 11 OAS missions to monitor their elections. The most recent mission was in 2019 to monitor their general elections. There have also been missions in 2015, 2011, 2007, 2003, 1999, 1995, 1990, 1984, 1980, and 1970.

Freedom of Information Laws

Since 2000 the right to information and freedom of information laws have expanded across the region. However, the existence of the laws on the books does not necessarily mean full enforcement.

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Signatory/Participant in MESICIC* Yes
Constitutional protection* Yes
Specific law enacted* Yes- enacted in 2008
Is there a presumption of right* Yes
Scope/Exceptions/Overrides* All information is available, without exceptions; however, the state has no obligation to process information, limiting the rights of the requester.
Received information under FOIA law?** 69%
Received information within a week?** 47%
Received the appropriate information?** 73%

*Data taken from the Global Right to Information ratings, provided by the Center for Law and Democracy. 
**Information from the 2015 World Justice Project Open Government Index


Women’s rights:

Protecting women against gender-based violence is a human rights issue often overlooked globally even though it crosses social, economic and national boundaries. And according to the United Nations Population Fund, gender-based violence undermines the health, security, dignity, and autonomy of its victims. Although 16 countries in Latin America had modified their laws to include a specific type of crime referring to the murder of women by 2015, they are not uniformly implemented, and practices to convict perpetrators of gender-based violence are still extremely weak. A 2016 report published by the Small Arms Survey found that Latin America and the Caribbean is home to 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world.

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Guatemala has the seventh highest female homicide rate with 8.2 female homicides per 100,000 women in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2008 Guatemala passed the Law on Femicides and other forms of Violence Against Women which introduced the crime of femicide, or the murder of women because of their status as women. The law also established the creation of courts that specialize in femicide. In 2010, Guatemala held the first femicide hearing in history. The penalty for femicide is 25 to 50 years in prison and the sentence cannot be reduced for any reason.  

Although progress to end femicide have been slow, Guatemala joins countries like Peru, which have been making advancements to curb gender violence. On November 2016, to help combat femicide, the Guatemalan government inaugurated the Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Femicide within its Public Ministry.


Indigenous rights:

7.8 percent of the population in Latin America, roughly 41,813,039 people, identify as indigenous, 49 percent of them live in urban areas and 51 percent live in rural areas.

The Labour Organization’s Convention 169 (ILO 169)

The Labour Organization’s Convention 169 (ILO169)—which has the status of an international treaty—establishes the right of indigenous and tribal peoples to be consulted when a policy or project affects their culture or heritage through what is commonly called “previous and informed consent.” The vaguely worded treaty has been a point of contention in some countries, among governments, investors and communities; and progress in implementing it has been uneven. The Convention has been interpreted, in particular, as applying to issues of national resource extraction and infrastructure development that affect communal lands. In Latin America 16 countries have signed ILO 169.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’s (UNDRIP)

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007, all Latin American countries, except Colombia, which abstained, voted in favor of this declaration. The only four countries to initially reject this declaration were the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. While it is not a legally binding instrument, it is an “important standard” for the treatment of indigenous people. The declaration sets out the collective and individual rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education, and other issues. It prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them and their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development. The end goal is to encourage countries to work alongside indigenous communities to solve global issues, like development, multicultural democracy and decentralization.

American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

In 2016, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) approved the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples after a long negotiation of 17 years. The declaration recognizes the collective organization and multicultural character of indigenous peoples, the self-identification of people who consider themselves indigenous and special protection for peoples in voluntary isolation or initial contact. However, the declaration was met with resistance by members of the indigenous community, who complained that they did not have full participation in the negotiations and that the declaration rolled back several rights recognized in UNDRIP. The declaration does not mention the right to previous and informed consultation.

Previous to the declaration, in 1990, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) had created the Office of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to devote attention to Indigenous Peoples in the Americas and to “strengthen, promote, and systemize the IACHR’s own work in this area. The current Rapporteur on the Right of Indigenous Peoples is Francisco José Eguiguren Praeli, Ambassador of Peru to Spain from 2012 to 2014 and Minister of the Office of Justice. He received a law degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru with a master’s degree in Constitutional Law and a PhD in Humanities. Former Rapporteurs include, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine a former IACHR Commissioner and Dinah Shelton an international law consultant for the World Health Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme among other organizations.

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From 2008 to 2012, out of 158 seats in the Guatemalan congress, there were 17 self-declared indigenous representatives. In the legislative session from 2012 to 2016 the number of representatives increased to 20, with three of them women. In the subsequent session, from 2016 to 2020, the number of seats occupied by indigenous representatives fell to 18 seats. Guatemala does not have indigenous quotas in its congress.

Data from 2002 show 5,880,046 people or 41 percent of the total population are indigenous—far greater than their representation in congress.

Guatemala voted in favor of UNDIRP, the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and signed ILO 169. It has struggled to implement ILO 169, there is still no specific enabling legislation. Indigenous communities have appealed to the state for application of the right. A 2017 decision by the country’s Constitutional Court acknowledged the right to previous and informed consent, but did not explicitly endorse ILO 169 in its decision and held that the outcomes of consultation are not binding on the state. 


[1]WJP Rule-of-Law Index measures 4 principles: 1) The government and its officials and agents as well as individuals and private entities are accountable under the law; 2) The laws are clear, publicized, stable, and just; are applied evenly; and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property and certain core human rights; 3) The process by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced is accessible, fair, and efficient; 4) Justice is delivered timely by competent, ethical, and independent representatives and neutrals who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.
[2] AQ Social Inclusion Index uses 23 different factors to measure how effectively governments are serving their citizens, regardless of race or income, and is published annually by Americas Quarterly at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.
[3] Hearings were scored by Global Americans on a scale of 0 to 3 to evaluate government participation. 0 indicates that the government did not send any representatives to participate. If representatives were present, they were scored from 1 to 3 based on how engaged the representatives were, 1 indicating that they objected to the hearing, to the jurisdiction of the Commission to review the topic or dismissed there being any issue to discuss. A score of 3 indicates full participation of the government, including acknowledgment of the issue and its importance, the jurisdiction of the Commission to review and engagement on how this issue will be addressed going forward.
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