Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1:  Political and Human Rights Conditions

Guatemala is a democratic, multiparty republic with a population of approximately 13.7 million. In 2007 national elections, generally considered by international observers to be free and fair, Alvaro Colom of the National Unity of Hope party won a four-year presidential term, which began in January 2008. Although the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, serious problems remained, including: widespread societal violence; arbitrary arrest and detention; substantial inadequacies in the police and judicial sectors; lack of respect for the rule of law; systemic impunity and corruption; violence and intimidation against journalists and human rights defenders; violence against women; trafficking in persons; discrimination against indigenous people; ineffective enforcement of labor laws; and child labor. Continued infiltration by organized crime into public institutions and widespread concern over violence and lack of security undermined citizen confidence in the government and eroded support for democratic institutions.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The U.S. strategy for promoting democracy and human rights focuses on strengthening democratic institutions, transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights and the rule of law. This strategy, developed in consultation with civil society and indigenous community leaders, prioritizes improved governance and support to government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and private business. The strategy also includes supporting independent media and fostering professional military and police forces that respect human rights.

To advance its strategic objectives, the United States supports programs that encourage decentralization of government functions and stronger, more effective local government institutions to increase citizen participation in decision-making. The United States uses diplomatic engagement, public outreach, foreign assistance programs, and related initiatives to advance its objectives.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

U.S. officials regularly meet with local congressional representatives, political party leaders, and government officials to advance democratic principles and the rule of law. U.S. programs provide substantial capacity building assistance to expand the government's 24-hour criminal court system, improve case management and pretrial oral hearings, and develop a police inspector general unit and office of professional responsibility to combat police corruption. United States officials require that all U.S.-funded military training includes a human rights component, and meet regularly with military authorities to ensure continued cooperation in legal proceedings involving human rights abuses allegedly committed during the internal armed conflict. To combat impunity the United States has committed significant political and financial resources to the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and works closely with CICIG to ensure fulfillment of its mandate to assist government institutions in dismantling criminal organizations.

The United States helps strengthen relations between civil society and the government through supporting a working group of human rights defenders and government officials to address human rights abuses committed during the 1960-1996 internal armed conflict. The project has provided closure to victims' family members, mental health services to survivors, and fostered efforts to combat impunity and lack of respect for the rule of law. U.S. assistance continues to fund a local forensic anthropology foundation that uses forensic analyses, and which in 2008 conducted 130 exhumations of the remains of victims of the country's 1960-1996 internal armed conflict.

The United States underscores to government officials our strong interest in the investigation of intimidation of trade unionists and human rights defenders and the provision of protection for threatened members of these groups. This advocacy has resulted in reinstatement of a number of terminated employees and increased security for some labor union leaders. However, there remain concerns regarding protection of these groups. U.S. officials meet with journalists, human rights defenders, labor leaders, and indigenous activists to support these groups' human rights activities.

The U.S. Government undertakes substantial outreach to promote the social inclusion and political participation of the country's large indigenous populations. U.S. assistance aims to raise awareness of indigenous rights. U.S. programs have been providing journalism training to 20 reporters from rural communities in eastern departments of the country and sending indigenous leaders to the United States to participate in an international visitor program.

The United States continues to provide substantial support for protecting labor rights and combating trafficking in persons. Working closely with local NGOs and government representatives, U.S. officials monitor U.S.-funded and labor capacity building projects, and collaborate with the Ministry of Labor, the private sector, and worker organizations to strengthen institutional capacity, raise awareness of labor rights, and cultivate a culture of compliance with labor laws. U.S.-funded assistance also strengthens government and civil society efforts to advocate for legislative reform, improve protective services for trafficking victims, and strengthen investigation and prosecution of traffickers.