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  • Lawmakers during a session at the National Congress in Guatemala city, Guatemala, Feb. 12, 2020.

    Lawmakers during a session at the National Congress in Guatemala city, Guatemala, Feb. 12, 2020. | Photo: Twitter/ @EFE_ACENTRAL

Published 12 February 2020

The new law could be used to arbitrarily limit the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Human rights defenders and social activists criticized the Guatemalan Congress for passing a law that could be used by governments to arbitrarily control non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

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The "Law of Non-Governmental Organizations for Development" establishes that NGOs will not be able to use foreign donations or financing to carry out activities that "alter" public order.

"If an NGO uses foreign donations or financing to alter public order, it will be immediately canceled... its executives will be charged under criminal and civil legislation," the new law states.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also expressed its reservations regarding what happened in Congress.

"The reform of the NGO law could affect the freedom of association, assembly, and expression, as well as democratic spaces for organized civil society," the OHCHR said and added that "it is important to adopt laws and policies that guarantee spaces for democratic participation."

In 2019, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed concern about the NGO bill as it introduces controls that could be used to arbitrarily limit social organizations.

The NGO law is based on proposals that lawmakers of the previous legislature made to avoid the fight against corruption promoted by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.

With the new law, the government can "arbitrarily cancel uncomfortable organizations," said Justice Now (JusticiaYa), an NGO which was born amidst the anti-corruption fight in 2015.​​​​​​​

The leftist party Winaq, whose most notable member is the 1992 Nobel Peace Price Rigoberta Menchu, said the NGO law is "a blow to freedom of social organization and harmful to the majority."​​​​​​​

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