Vance Center Joins Discussion of Threats to NGOs in Guatemala

June 2021

Continuing the Vance Center’s engagement in rule-of-law issues in Guatemala, Latin America Policy Director Jaime Chavez Alor joined representatives of  Alianza por las Reformas,the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala, and the United Kingdom Embassy in Guatemala in a webinar on recent legislation curtailing NGO freedoms.

The webinar focused on the cases pending before the Guatemalan Constitutional Court to determine the constitutionality of the 2020 “reforms” to the NGO Law. Alianza por las Reformas and the Vance Center last year published the report Guatemala: Revisions to the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations. Analysis under the international human right to freedom of association, produced by the international law firm Paul Weiss and the Vance Center, which reviewed the changes in light of international human rights law, including: the government’s heightened control over NGOs and greater discretion to de-register them; new criminal and civil liability for directors of NGOs; and increased and onerous reporting requirements.

In the webinar, Chavez Alor highlighted the report’s key findings and emphasized the importance to the rule of law of freedom of association and expression for civil society organizations . He pointed out that some  provisions of the new law resemble restrictions in authoritarian countries like Nicaragua. Finally, he noted that violations of international human rights standards could entail not only reputational damage for Guatemala, but a breach of international standards and the obligation to change the law, since international human rights organizations have already condemned this legislation.

In the webinar, Mika Kanervaovuri pf the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala expressed concerns about the government’s broad discretion to cancel NGOs. UK Ambassador in Guatemala Nick Whittingham stressed the importance of treating NGOs as allies of the government, not enemies. Helida Ramos from Chomija criticized the new law’s strict reporting, creating incentives to close NGOs. David Gaytan from Alianza por las Reformas indicated the danger of invoking ill-defined “public order” to restrict freedom of association.

The recording of the webinar is available here.