Guatemala & Nicaragua: Cooperation with Human Rights Monitors Deteriorates

Press Conference by Foreign Minister of Guatemala
Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

The governments of Guatemala and Nicaragua each recently issued decisions terminating cooperation with international and regional oversight bodies in critical areas of human rights, prompting strong criticism. [UN News: Nicaragua; IACHR Press Release: Guatemala; European Council Press Release] Escalating his September 2018 decision that Guatemala would not renew its agreement with a United Nations-backed anti-corruption investigatory body, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales unilaterally decided to expel the body prior to the agreement’s expiration and ahead of the next presidential election. [UN News: CICIG; NY Times; IJRC: Oversight] Additionally, in December 2018, the Nicaraguan government, amid mounting civil unrest, announced measures effectively barring two monitoring mechanism set up by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and stated that it would no longer accept IACHR visits. [IACHR Press Release: Nicaragua; UN News: Nicaragua] UN experts have resoundingly condemned the governments for disregarding their international legal obligations under these agreements and the human rights at stake in the absence of this oversight. [UN News: CICIG; UN News: Nicaragua]

Guatemala’s Expulsion of CICIG Experts

On January 7, 2019, the Guatemalan Foreign Minister presented the United Nations Secretary General with a letter confirming the President’s decision to end Guatemala’s cooperation with the CICIG, giving the body just 24 hours to exit the country. [UN News: CICIG] This decision was immediately challenged in Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, which has consistently ruled in CICIG’s favor when President Morales has made other attempts to undermine its work. [NY Times] For example, in December 2018, the Constitutional Court issued an injunction suspending the government’s decision to revoke CICIG officials’ visas, and this January it intervened to allow CICIG researcher Yilen Osorio to enter the country after being detained at La Aurora International Airport for almost 24 hours. [IACHR Press Release: Guatemala] Additionally, in August 2017, the Constitutional Court rejected a government order expelling CICIG head, Iván Velásquez, from the country after he announced that the CICIG would begin an investigation of President Morales for campaign finance violations. [IJRC: Nicaragua] The Morales government barred Velásquez from re-entering Guatemala in September 2018, and he has since been running the CICIG from outside the country. [UN News: CICIG]

The widening rift over this issue between the judiciary and the executive in Guatemala is raising fears that Guatemala may be on the brink of a constitutional crisis. [Al Jazeera] Further, the efforts to undermine the CICIG are seen as an attack to the exercise and enjoyment of human rights, which are “inextricably linked” to the fight against corruption. [IACHR Press Release: Guatemala]

The cooperation agreement between Guatemala and the UN that established the CICIG charged it with investigating illicit security forces affecting human rights in Guatemala, assisting the State in disbanding these groups, and issuing public policy recommendations to prevent the groups’ return. See CICIG, Mandate. Its mandate was set to end on September 3, 2019. [UN News: CICIG] Broadly, its goal is to strengthen Guatemala’s justice system and address the corruption and impunity that have plagued the nation since its 36-year civil conflict ended in 1996. See CICIG, Background. While the body has largely been praised for its work and progress in countering corruption in Guatemala, as high-level government officials have come under increasing scrutiny, the relationship has steadily deteriorated. [IACHR Press Release: Guatemala] At a press conference in the country’s capital, President Morales defended this latest move, accusing CICIG of being a threat to public security in Guatemala and claiming that the panel itself is responsible for violating human rights through what he has deemed “selective and partial justice.” [NY Times]

Nicaragua Shuts Down IACHR Human Rights Monitors

The Nicaraguan government is seeking to eliminate criticism of its human rights practices by kicking out international human rights monitors and Nicaraguan non-governmental organizations. [UN News: Nicaragua] In December 2018, the government effectively expelled two organizations established by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: the Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) and the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI). [UN News: Nicaragua] The MESENI was established in June 2018 to monitor the human rights situation in Nicaragua, follow up on IACHR work, and provide support to civil society actors. [IACHR Press Release: Nicaragua] The GIEI was established to assist and support investigations into the violence that occurred in the course of social protests between April 18 and May 30, 2018. [IACHR Press Release: Nicaragua] Previously, Nicaragua had withdrawn its invitation to a team from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to conduct a fact-finding visit to the country, resulting in the OHCHR’s four-person team leaving the country on September 1, 2018. [IJRC: Oversight]

The government has also recently stepped up attacks against journalists and non-governmental organizations working to document the unrest and government abuses. The national legislature has stripped at least nine organizations of their legal status in recent months, and law enforcement has carried out raids on the offices of media and human rights groups. [Guardian]

Student-led protests broke out in April 2018 following the announcement of tax increases and downgrades to the country’s social security program. [UN News: Nicaragua] Since then, the government has cracked down on the opposition, arresting hundreds and violating various human rights standards, including protesters’ right to fair trials. [UN News: Nicaragua] To date, there have been over 300 deaths reported, and Nicaraguan security forces have been accused of engaging in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. [UN News: Nicaragua] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned that Nicaragua was coming dangerously close to completely decimating civil society and prolonging the current crisis. [UN News: Nicaragua]

Governments’ Human Rights Obligations

Both Nicaragua and Guatemala are party to numerous regional and universal human rights treaties. See IJRC, Nicaragua Factsheet; Guatemala Factsheet. These treaties require the States to protect, respect, and fulfill the human rights of all those within their territory, and also subject them to the oversight of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and some of the UN human rights treaty bodies.

Additional Information

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