The campaign for Guatemala’s Sept. 6 presidential, legislative and municipal elections is unfolding against a backdrop of ongoing protests that erupted following charges of corruption against a former vice president and other political leaders. This challenging political environment is further complicated by intimidation and threats of violence, particularly against Guatemalan observers monitoring election preparations.
On July 22, for example, while attending a political rally in Coatepeque, in western Guatemala, two observers from Citizen Action (Accion Ciudadana, AC), an NDI partner, faced harassment and intimidation at the hands of attendees at the rally, organized by Renewed Democratic Freedom (Libertad Democrática Renovadora, LIDER), one of Guatemala’s largest political parties. The observers were at the event as part of a collaborative initiative between NDI and AC to monitor compliance with electoral regulations and track campaign expenditures.
To protest their treatment, representatives from AC, the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman and Young People (Gente Joven), AC’s local partner in Coatepeque, convened a press conference in Guatemala City the next day to denounce the intimidation. One of the most experienced and respected election observation groups in Latin America, AC is monitoring the preparations for and completion of Guatemala’s September elections in 20 municipalities in collaboration with NDI.
At the July 23 press conference, AC described how its observers were threatened after identifying themselves as members of the observation network. Attendees confronted the observers, recorded their names and photographed them before forcing them to leave the campaign event.
Rally goers prevented the AC staff from engaging in legitimate, nonpartisan observation activities -- activities protected by Guatemalan law and supported by international norms and standards for election observers. “We are dedicated to the observation and believe we are contributing to strengthening democracy in our country,” the AC observers said in response to their ordeal.
“The ability to safely conduct the election observation is a crucial part of ensuring transparent and fair elections as well as the political participation of all citizens,” said Marvin Pol, AC network coordinator. During the press conference, representatives called on political parties and the government to respect the work and safety of observers and to allow them to fulfill their civic right to observe and participate in political activities.
The Guatemalan civic groups noted that threats from political parties against AC observers were registered in two other municipalities the same week. The two AC observers have filed an official complaint with the Human Rights Ombudsman, which announced plans to request an official investigation by Guatemala’s Attorney General into the acts of intimidation and explore providing security for AC observers in conjunction with Guatemalan police.
NDI and AC are conducting the observation as part of the project Elections: More Inclusion, Less Violence, with support from the United States Agency for International Development.
Published on July 29, 2015