January 18, 2021

The president of Guatemala sanctions controversial reform to supervise NGOs

The president of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, on Thursday endorsed a controversial reform of the law that allows the supervision of all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) established in the country, in addition to the cancellation of any entity by government decision.

Accompanied by all its ministers, Giammattei announced the sanction of the law reforms, approved by the Guatemalan Congress on February 11, so it will soon be published in the official newspaper to enter into force “in the shortest possible time”.

Regulatory reforms, called the “Law of Non-Governmental Organizations”, have been objected by local social organizations and also by high authorities both in the United States and in the United Nations (UN).

The interim secretary of state for affairs of the Western Hemisphere of the United States, Michael Kozak, expressed his opposition to the reform of the law on February 15 through his social networks.

According to Kozak, the law reform proposes difficult requirements for non-governmental organizations, which “play a key role” in the construction of the various democracies.

Kozak, who met with Giammattei in early February, also said he urged Guatemala to review “its legislation” so that “best international practices” were adopted.

A similar opinion expressed yesterday the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives, which urged Giammattei to veto the law, so that “civil society can operate without fear” to punishments.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Guatemala had also warned its reservations regarding the new regulations.

“The reform of the Law of Non-Governmental Organizations could affect the freedom of association, assembly and expression, as well as democratic spaces for organized civil society,” said the UN office in Guatemala.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, had expressed in 2019 her concern for the law, which introduces “administrative requirements and controls applicable to national and international NGOs” that “in practice can be used in a discretionary manner or arbitrary to limit “its work.

“For what they think outside they have to shake my legs to me? So what kind of president would it be?” Giammattei asked himself during the press conference, when asked for opinions abroad.

“This is a sovereign country, and I would expect allied countries to respect our decisions,” added the Guatemalan president.

Giammattei explained that an ambassador (not to mention his name) called him to ask him to veto the reform of the law, but the president assured him that all countries, including his own, have a regulation for non-governmental organizations.

The governor, invested on January 14, also exhibited a presentation in which he says that El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Panama have similar regulations and that the new reform will end corrupt organizations.

The origin of the law is, according to various sources, an attempt by several deputies of the previous legislature (2016-2020) to counteract the anti-corruption fight undertaken since 2015 by the Guatemalan Public Ministry and the now disappeared International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.


Giammattei said he was advised by three constitutional lawyers to analyze whether there were irregularities in the reform of the law, but said that the consultation was “in a personal capacity” and he did not want to give the names of the jurists at the moment because, in his own words, I didn’t have your authorization.

The Guatemalan ruler also explained that he will respect any decision of the highest court in the country, the Constitutional Court, in case he revokes the reform or some point of its content before various legal remedies that have been promoted by social organizations to suspend the regulations.

The law reforms, originated in 2017 with the previous legislative period, order the “control” of non-governmental organizations in the country and their “control” even when they do not manage public funds, among other measures.

“No donation or external financing can be used to carry out activities that alter public order,” establishes the law reform. “If an NGO uses donations or external financing to alter public order, it will be immediately canceled,” says the regulations.


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