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Guatemala court overturns government’s civil society restrictions

March 08, 2020

GUATEMALA CITY: Guatemala’s government on Friday said it will respect a ruling by the nation’s Constitutional Court that overturns a law allowing the government to pry into the affairs of and even dissolve non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Congress passed the law on Feb. 12 with the support of the ruling party and other conservative lawmakers who argue that foreign-backed NGOs violate national sovereignty.

The law had been questioned by the United States and human rights groups. The U.S. State Department had described the bill as putting “onerous” requirements on NGOs in Guatemala, saying such groups play key roles in functioning democracies.

Several civil rights organizations sued to overturn the law, saying it violated human rights. The court sided with the organizations. The law forced NGOs to register, report their donations and allow their accounts to be inspected. Under certain circumstances, it would also allow NGOs to be dissolved, controlled and monitored.

“We will respect the ruling and call on Guatemalans to unite, to promote a culture of transparency, prosperity and development,” Guatemala’s government said. Although the court’s ruling is provisional if Congress and the government want to re-impose the rules, the legislative process would need to start from scratch, former congressional legislative director Ana Isabel Antillon told Reuters.

Governments around the world, including Turkey and India, in recent years have made regulations more burdensome for civil society groups. In 2019, rights group Amnesty International released a report warning of a “global assault” on NGOs.

In Guatemala, civil society has often been at odds with governments, the army and business groups by seeking justice for victims of a 36-year-long civil war, as well as supporting anti-corruption efforts and peasant farmer and land-rights activists.