Population: 16.5 million (World Bank, 2017)
Capital: Guatemala City
Languages: Spanish, 20+ indigenous languages
Major Ethnic Groups:
59.4% Mestizo, 41% indigenous, 9.1% K'iche',
8.4% Kaqchikel, 7.9% Mam, 6.3% Q'eqchi',
8.6% other Mayan, 0.2% indigenous non-Mayan, 0.1% others
GDP per Capita (current US dollars): 3,790 (World Bank, 2017)
Security Sector Stats
Active Armed Forces: 23,000
Small Arms: The estimated total number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians in Guatemala is 1,600,000; the defence forces are reported to have 112,000 firearms; and Police in Guatemala are reported to have 44,000 firearms (Gun Policy, 2017)
Military Expenditure: 0.4% of GDP (World Bank, 2013)
ii. Justice Reform
iii. Defence Reform
Located in Central America, the Republic of Guatemala shares borders with Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize. Although these countries share a common historical legacy and similar socio-cultural traditions, Guatemala distinguishes itself through its constitutional framework, influenced by the peace agreement - ratified in 1996 - which brought the three-decade-long civil war to an end.
The 36-year-long civil war resulted in the death or disappearance of 200,000 people, most of them civilians. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reported that, by the end of the conflict, between 500,000 and 1.5 million people experienced displacement, most of them of indigenous (Mayan) decent. The process of bringing the perpetrators of the human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict to justice continues to form a significant part of the security and justice landscape.
Although Guatemala has been one of the strongest economic performers in Latin America in recent years, with a GDP growth rate of 3.0 % since 2012, expected to reach 3.4 % in 2017, it also has one of the highest inequality rates in region. Guatemala ranks 125th out of 188 countries surveyed in the 2016 UN Human Development Index (which ranks the world’s countries according to several social factors, such as equality). The World Bank reports that Guatemala has some of the worst poverty, malnutrition and maternal-child mortality rates in Latin America, especially in rural and indigenous areas.
In 2015, the World Bank estimated the population of Guatemala to be just over 16.5 million, with over 3 million living in the capital municipality. The indigenous population of Guatemela is quite large (40%), with the remaining 60% considered not fully indigenous but ‘mixed’ Amerindian and European (Guatemala National Institute of Statistics) The afroetnhic group – Garífuna - comprises less than 1% of the population. Spanish is the official language, although 20 ethnic languages are also spoken.
The post-conflict period continues to be marked by high levels of criminal violence and insecurity. This has resulted in public demands for a “tough on crime” approach. Insight Crime reports Guatemala’s 2017 homicide rate to be 26.1 per 100,000, 6th highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, this figure reflects a declining trend in the homicide rate, dropping nearly 20 points since a peak of 45.1 per 100,000 in 2009.
Eclipsing the demand for accountability of human rights violations committed during the internal conflict is the public demand to address corruption and impunity of crime in general. The US Department of State reports that Guatemala suffers from a severe impunity problem, which exacerbates a wide range of crimes. In 2016, Transparency International ranked Guatemala 136th out of 176 (1 being least corrupt and 176 being most corrupt) countries in terms of the public’s perception of corruption, with the Police and politicians perceived to be the most corrupt. The public demand to hold corrupt state officials responsible has resulted in unprecedented street protests, drawing together groups from diverse political opinions in one voice.
The issue of impunity, coupled with the easy availability of firearms, creates an environment primed for violent crime. Moreover, state agents and politicians with ties to criminal organisations and corruption in general continue to dominate the political context, with the UN-sponsored International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) playing a dominant role. Most notably, the CICIG exposed the massive corruption scheme La Línea in 2015, leading to the resignation and arrest of then-president Otto Pérez Molina. According to an International Crisis Group report (2016), the CICIG enjoys the support of 66% of the Guatemalan society becoming the most trusted institution in the country.
Guatemala is considered part of the “Northern Triangle” along with El Salvador and Honduras, meaning it is a strategically important transit nation for the transnational drug trade. This has contributed to both violence and rampant corruption. In recent years, transnational criminal groups, particularly Mexican cartels, have expanded their presence through the Northern Triangle. According to the US Department of State’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) for 2016, during the first nine months of 2015, the Counter-Narcotics Police, Ministry of Defence’s Counter Narcotics Naval Unit and other U.S.-assisted specialized units seized 7.25 metric tons of cocaine and 25 kilograms of heroin, a figure in line with seizures in 2014. Moreover, $4.4 million in bulk U.S. cash and approximately $3 million in local currency were seized by Guatemalan law enforcement in the same time period.
Guatemala has a complex criminal environment comprised of local crime family syndicates, street gangs, in addition to large transnational actors from Mexico. The smaller organisations serve primarily as “transportistas ,”or transporters, for larger criminal groups, shipping illicit products through the country and serving as points of contact between Mexican and Colombian transnational gangs. Their roles as transporters can be traced back to their roots in Guatemala’s decades-old contraband trade.
In addition to these criminal organisations, there are powerful street gangs or Maras : notably the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Barrio 18 . Collectively, these rival gangs are estimated to number 22,000 members, with Barrio 18 being the largest. International Crisis Group estimates the Maras to number 54,000 members across the three Northern Triangle countries – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The groups engage primarily in extortion (particularly of the public transportation service), kidnapping, robberies and the local drug trade. They are also thought to assist in human trafficking and the smuggling of US-bound migrants, a business that the Mexican drug cartels also engage in.
International and national media continue to document endemic gendered violence, including alarming statistics on feminicide. Research by civil society organisations has suggested that Guatemalan culture is deeply embedded in patriarchal norms, presenting this as an underlying factor in the institutionalisation of gendered violence. Linked to this is a general lack of education of young girls, especially indigenous minorities. For example, of the 2 million children not attending school in Guatemala, the majority are indigenous girls living in rural areas.
Political fragility, armed violence and human rights abuses have marked Guatemala’s political history, reaching its height during the internal armed conflict which lasted for 36 years until peace accords were signed in December 1996. Civilian and military governments alternated control of the state through general elections and military coups. One particularly notorious figure is General Efrain Rios Montt, who seized power following a military coup in 1982, annulling the 1965 constitution, dissolving Congress and suspending political parties. A year later Montt was ousted in another coup led by General Mejia Victores, who declared an amnesty for guerrilla fighters. By 1985, a new constitution was drafted and democratic presidential elections resumed.
The 1990s saw peace dialogues between the government and rebels of the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG), beginning with a set of Peace Accords signed on several issues including human rights. Internationally, Guatemala was criticised for widespread human rights abuses, particularly against the large indigenous population which had historically been a vulnerable group as a result of longstanding societal discrimination. In 1997, the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) was established by the Security Council in resolution 1094, to verify the ceasefire between the Government of Guatemala and the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) . MINUGUA played an influential role in the Guatemalan political spectrum, verifying the implementation of the Guatemalan Peace Accords between 1996 and 2004.
By the turn of the millennium, democratic elections and civil governments began to define the political landscape. On human rights and transitional justice issues, Guatemala made strives by investigating former military leader Efrain Rios Montt, placing him under house arrest and making reparation payments to the victims of human rights violations. By 2006, the Government and the UN agreed to create a commission - to be known as the CICIG - to identify and dismantle powerful clandestine armed groups. As part of the agreement, the mandate of the CICIG had to be renewed every 2 years by Congress. At the beginning the CICIG enjoyed little public support but soon began to play an influential role in investigating and prosecuting high-profile cases such as the Pavón case, concerning hitmen hired by the government of Oscar Berger Perdomo who were involved in the extrajudicial executions of prisoners held at Prison "Pavón" and "El Infiernito", as well as the assassination of three Salvadorian diplomats from the parliamentary body of the Central American Integration System. Other notable cases include those of ex-president Alfonso Portillo and various military officers for embezzlement and corruption, the Rosenberg case, which implicated then-president Álvaro Colom in the death of Rodrigo Rosenberg, and La Linea case where the CICIG and the Public Ministry accused 22 government officials of being members of The Line, a government conspiracy group dedicated to committing fraud. Among them was Juan Carlos Monzón, secretary to Vice-President Roxana Baldetti, and two other officials; the scandal eventually came to implicate the Vice-President and the President themselves. By this point, the CICIG enjoyed enormous public and international support and backing for their investigations but continued to make enemies amongst the political ruling classes. In 2017, the current president Jimmy Morales tried to expel the chief prosecutor of the CICIG, only to have the expulsion order blocked hours later by the country’s constitutional court.
Jimmy Morales, president of Guatemala elected in 2015, replaced President Otto Perez Molina who resigned and was later arrested for leading a corrupt network of politicians and customs officials. Morales’ presidential victory was largely based on his anti-corruption agenda. However, in 2017 prosecutors opened an investigation against him over alleged campaign funding irregularities.
The Technical Secretariat of the National Council for Security is the main entity responsible for elaborating, monitoring and revising national security policy. This technical secretariat also plays a critical role in coordinating the national security system. The current national security plan (Plan Estratégico de Seguridad de la Nación 2016-2020 ) aims to institutionalise a ‘Management by Results’ planning approach and, in the process, continues to align the operational planning of the institution to ensure national security objectives are achieved. These security objectives include:
- Preventing violence and crime in order to improve protection of people and their property
- Combatting common and organised crime to improve the protection of people
- Modernising the penitentiary system for the fulfilment of its constitutioal purpose
- Maintaining public order in terms of governance.
Another key National Council for Security document is the White Paper for Security (El Libro Blanco de Seguridad ). This policy document recognises interconnectedness between security and development in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is aligned with the national development plan K'atun, Our Guatemala 2032 . The White Paper identifies three main action lines for public safety: 1) public security, 2) citizen security, and 3) community security.
In terms of external support, Guatemala received $452 million (gross total) in ODA assistance in 2015. Additionally, the UN Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) allocated $11 million for the period 2011-2015 in programmes supporting the justice sector, including transitional justice, built around CICIG’s work with the Attorney General (capacity building) as well as civil society; police reform, working with the Ministry of Interior and NGOs; and empowerment of women, working with the NGOs specialised in the justice and security areas. The United States is a key partner supporting the justice and security sector. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) supports the authorities in countering narcotics, combatting gangs and transnational crime, border and port security, police assistance, forensics, and corrections. The INL is also a key supporter of the CICIG, providing $43.5 million to the Commission since 2007.
The Interior Ministry oversees the National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civili de Guatemala - PNC), the primary body responsible for public security in the country. The National Civil Police (PNC) was created following the 1996 Peace Accords, which prescribed the restructuring of police forces with the goal of strengthening civil power, as well as the role of the Army in a democratic society. As of 2017, the PNC numbered 35,000 personnel with which to guarantee the security of over 16 million Guatemalans.
In 2012, the US Department of State reported that the PNC is “understaffed, inadequately trained, and insufficiently funded.” The force has a long and detailed history of corruption and links to organised crime, and there have also been instances of police operating their own criminal bands, dedicated principally to kidnapping and extortion. A US Department of State Human Rights Report highlighted continued human rights problems including arbitrary or unlawful killings; abuse and mistreatment by National Civil Police (PNC) members; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged pre-trial detention; failure of the judicial system to conduct full and timely investigations and fair trials; government failure to fully protect judicial officials, witnesses, and civil society representatives from intimidation and threats; and internal displacement of persons.
The PNC has its own internal investigation body in the Office of Professional Responsibility (Oficina de Responsabilidad Profesional – ORP). However, much needed reform of the institution has been lacking despite the creation of the National Commission on Police Reform (Comisión Nacional de la Reforma Policial – CNRP) in December 2010. This is charged with recommending and monitoring government initiatives to clean up and modernise the police force, though little progress has been made since its inception. Moreover, the appointment of the head of the Commission is made by the President, raising questions about impartiality.
Guatemala undertook a series of major changes to its judicial system in 1994, laying the groundwork for a switch from an inquisitorial to an accusatory system. Though Guatemala has moved to oral trials, there are no juries, with verdicts instead being decided by three-judge panels.
Criminal investigations are handled by the Public Ministry (Ministerio Público –MP) which is headed by the country’s Attorney General (Fiscal General ). There is also a Public Prosecutor’s Office (Procuraduría de la Nación ) which serves as a legal advisory body for the state, and a national Human Rights Ombudsperson (Procuraduría de los Derechos Humanos –PDH).
Guatemala has been recipient of many justice support programmes. Most notable are the UN-sponsored CICIG and the European Union of Support for Security and Justice in Guatemala or SEJUST. SEJUST aims to work with institutions in the security and justice sector, with the goal of improving the quality and access of justice services by reducing the high levels of impunity, guaranteeing due process, promoting respect for the rights of victims and vulnerable groups, and seeking education of adolescents in conflict with the criminal law.
Despite these efforts and the significant reforms of the mid-1990s, Guatemala’s legal system remains ranked among the worst in Latin America due to endemic corruption, inefficiency and impunity. The rate of impunity is estimated to be around 90 percent and, according to the CICIG, may even be as high as 97 percent. Judicial independence is also a major obstacle. The World Economic Forum’s 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report placed Guatemala 97th of 138 countries for judicial independence, ranking slightly better than neighbours Honduras (114) and Mexico (105). This does, however, reflects a positive trend compared to 2012-2013 when Guatemala placed 103rd , lower than Honduras (69) and Mexico (88).
The most significant initiative in recent years is the founding of the CICIG in 2006. It is an impartial body which assists the Public Prosecutor’s Office and provides technical assistance to Guatemala’s judicial institutions so that they are better equipped to investigate and process cases themselves. The CICIG has played a key role in mobilising public opinion against deep-rooted impunity and corruption, with mass protests rocking the country in 2015 after the CICIG unveiled a customs fraud and smuggling scheme implicating several high-level officials, whose operations defrauded around 320,000 USD (2.5 million quetzals) each week.
As a result, a National dialogue towards justice reform in Guatemala was launched in 2016 with the aim to propose, approve and implement specific reforms to the Constitution and to ordinary laws that will better guarantee judicial independence, access to justice and institutional strengthening. All three branches of the state have agreed to promote the reforms with the support of a Technical Secretariat, comprised of the Office of the Attorney General, the Human Rights Ombudsman and CICIG, with the support of the UN Human Rights Office and the Office of the Resident Coordinator.
Guatemala’s armed forces, managed by the Ministry of National Defence (Ministerio de la Defensa Nacional), were cut significantly in terms of personnel strength from around 50,000 to 17,000, under the administration of Oscar Berger in 2004. By 2011, policies began to show trends towards greater military spending. In 2016, the Ministry of National received the second highest budget of any government institution, rising by 37.1% in spite of allegations of military involvement in cases of corruption. The Guatemalan military currently numbers nearly 23,000 personnel.
According to the Ministry of National Defence, the main reason for this trend in military spending is to recruit, train and equip new squadrons that will assist the PNC in deleveraging citizen security, particularly in areas where the local population has requested a military presence. Currently, over 2000 troops are assisting the PNC in carrying out patrols in 11 municipalities. This joint patrol project was initially planned to end in December 2017, but has subsequently been extended until March 2018.
Both the police and military have their own intelligence agencies—the Dirección de Inteligencia Civil del Ministerio de Gobernación (DIGICI) for the police and the Dirección de Inteligencia del Estado Mayor del Ministerio de la Defensa Nacional (DIEMDN) for the military. Although each agency is predisposed to working with other countries in anti-narcotics operations, they are widely considered under-resourced and their staff insufficiently trained.
Partly as a result of mistrust in the country’s security institutions, there is an alarming number of private security firms operating in Guatemala. According to the Directorate of Private Security Services (DGSSP) - the government agency overseeing the regulation of private security - there are 17,647 registered private security guards although the actual number is likely to be between 45,000 and 150,000. These companies are often poorly regulated or not officially registered and a number of private security guards have been found in possession of illegally acquired firearms.
Guatemala’s 1986 Constitution set out that power would be shared equally between the executive, legislature and judiciary. This independence of the legislature ensures that Congress (Congreso de la República ) has the power to provide effective oversight of government policies and initiatives, with an absolute majority required to pass new laws. In addition, there are a number of permanent commissions that meet annually.
There are a number of NGOs dedicated to fighting for greater access to justice in Guatemala. Among the most prominent is the Movimiento Pro Justicia , an organisation which monitors the country’s judicial institutions and comprises of three NGOs: Familiares y Amigos contra la Delincuencia y el Secuestro (FADS), Madres Angustiadas (MA) and Fundación Myrna Mack (FMM).
Transparency International also has a local chapter, Citizen Action (Acción Ciudadana ), which promotes transparency within government and active citizen participation. The Association for the Study and Promotion of Democratic Security (Asociación para el Estudio y Promoción de la Seguridad en Democracia - SEDEM) is a local NGO dedicated to promoting security and intelligence sector reform, primarily geared toward the democratic control of these institutions. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) is a nonpartisan government agency that monitors the human rights situation, promoting justice for victims. It has a long, well-established history of working in the country, having been founded in 1982.
The UNDP has been a key partner in supporting democratic governance through the government’s Security, Justice and Peace Pact , a first step towards further integration with the different institutions linked to security and justice. The Security, Justice and Peace Pact is a whole-of-government project aimed at aligning policies and actions towards greater citizen security with broad consultation as a key element of its implementation. UNDP's support includes strengthening and creating information gathering systems, integration of databases of the Pubic Ministry and its General Directorates and Operating Units, integration of data bases of the Executive Power through the corresponding governmental acts and integration of databases with decentralised institutions and other powers of the state (Judicial Branch, National Registry of Persons, Superintendent of Tax Administration, National Institute of Forensic Sciences, National Office of the Civil Service, Public Ministry, among others).
Guatemala continues to make progress in prosecuting human rights and corruption cases, due in significant part to the collaboration of the Attorney General’s Office with the United Nations-backed CICIG, a partnership established in 2007 to investigate organized crime and reinforce local efforts to strengthen the rule of law. Apart from the landmark cases it has been involved in, the CICIG has achieved alignment with national priorities as stipulated in key Peace Accord documents such as the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights, the report of the Historical Clarification Commission and is consistent with the priorities established by the Coordinating Body for the Modernisation of the Justice Sector (ICMSJ).
The CICIG has also been effective in enhancing the State’s capacity to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by criminal structures with links to State entities or agents that provide them with operational capacity and/or impunity. These contributions have resulted in a greater capacity of the Public Ministry to better analyse the connection between cases and its ability to understand how criminal groups work and behave. Finally, the CICIG has been instrumental in restoring public confidence in the Public Ministry to levels sufficient enough to generate public pressure for the government to prioritise combating impunity. The issue of impunity has acquired prominence on the national agenda and is no longer limited to claims by human rights organisations, but further has encouraged the mobilisation of different social sectors. Lawmakers and political parties are now perceived as subject to the rule of law and are aware that citizens are scrutinising them.
In February 2016, a court convicted two former military officers on charges of crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery. It was the first time that a Guatemalan court had prosecuted a case of sexual violence related to the country’s 36-year internal armed conflict. The victims were 15 Maya Q’eqchi’ women. Similar high profile cases against former head of state Efraín Ríos Montt, who led a military government from 1982 to 1983, when the military carried out hundreds of massacres of unarmed civilians, show that human rights cases and transitional justice will continue to impact Guatemalan society.
In 2008, Guatemala became one of the first countries in the work to criminalise feminicide with the passing of the Law against Feminicide and other forms of Violence against Women. Significantly, the law also codifies an expansive definition of violence against women. This represents an important step in addressing the targeted and brutal murder of women, and serves as a model for women‘s rights activists in other countries. Key provisions of the Law against Feminicide include, but are not limited to, the creation of a Crimes Against Life and Physical Integrity of Women Unit (Art. 14), a specialised investigative office for cases involving violence against women, specialised judicial courts to hear cases of violence against women, available 24 hours a day (Art. 15), implementation of PLANOVI, the ten-year strategic plan to eradicate violence against women in Guatemala (Art. 18) and the development of a National System of Information for Violence Against Women, under the National Institute of Statistics, with support from the Public Prosecutor‘s Office, Police Department, Office of Human Rights, and other organisations (Art 19).
Guatemala is at a critical point in its institutional development, more so given its vulnerability to both domestic and transnational organised criminal groups. If its institutional capacity is not sufficiently strengthened in the near future, there is the strong risk that it could founder in a state of institutional underdevelopment.
Corruption and impunity are major issues in Guatemala in spite of the achievements of the CICIG in support of the Public Ministry. Engagement with the government on legislative reform measures should be done holistically and in alignment with national dialogues on justice and security sector reform processes. Moreover, the achievements made against impunity and corruption still need to secure their sustainability. In this regard, strengthening of the PNC’s investigative capacity, the professionalism of its personnel, the institution’s managerial stability, as well as that of the Ministry of Interior will play an important role.
Diplomatic channels will continue to be crucial to persuading political institutions that the implementation of a comprehensive justice system reform requires the political will of the Executive and the Legislative to ensure the independence of the Justice and Security Sector. For example, the continuation of the CICIG mandate depends largely on the political will of justice sector national leadership, as the Congress votes biannually on its fate.
In conjunction with helping reform the judicial system, efforts should to be made to tackle inefficiency in the penitentiary system. If impunity rates begin to decline and more cases are successfully prosecuted, the country’s jails are ill-equipped to handle an increasing number of inmates. The Institute for Comparative Studies in Criminal Science (Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales –ICCPG) and the Inter-American Bank are key actors in this area.
Existing efforts at police reform are falling short of what is required if the force is to become respectable and efficient. Given the increasing role of the military in public security and the dangers this implies, it is important that the government push the issue of police reform with focus on preventative approaches and human rights compliance.
In spite of the Law against Feminicide established in 2008 and the implementation of its provisions throughout the country, the rate of feminicide continues to grow. According to the National Medicolegal Institution (INACIF), there are on average 15 homicides of women and girls a week in Guatemala, a trend maintained for the past 9 years. Key tools such as the Latin American Model Protocol for the investigation of gender-related killings of women  (2014), developed in a 2-year participatory process, consulting experts from the region and all over the world, should be further institutionalised. According to UN Women, the Protocol clearly explains that it is the duty of the state to protect women implying the need for sanctions, prevention and proper reparations. It helps the authorities understand their responsibilities in addressing violence against women and also seeks to include the rights of victims—meaning, the living relatives of murdered women who seek justice.
 The Model Protocol is a tool for the police, courts, officials in the justice systems and forensic doctors to properly investigate femicide. It begins by defining hate crimes against women and how they need to be investigated and prosecuted. That means, first and foremost, understanding and recognizing the history of violence that led to the femicide.
The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.