Guatemala has some of the worst social outcomes in Latin America. About 50 per cent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition; almost one in three children does not complete primary school; and 290 women die from complications in pregnancy or childbirth (for every 100,000 live births), the worst rate in Latin America along with Bolivia. Despite being the largest economy in Central America, Guatemala has the lowest human development index (a composite measure of life expectancy, health and education outcomes) of any country in the sub-region.



Moreover, a closer look at disaggregated indicators on health, education and nutrition reveals wide disparities along lines of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status and geography (i.e. differences across regions, among municipalities within the same region, and between the rural and urban populations). For example, the infant mortality rate among the indigenous population is 30 percent higher than that of non-indigenous children. Maternal mortality is almost 10 times higher in the predominantly indigenous departments of the highland region than in departments with the lowest proportion of indigenous population. Primary education completion rates for girls are 10 percent lower than for boys, and the gap in school enrollment rates between the richest and poorest children is the widest in Latin America.

The historical legacy of armed conflict, political repression and institutionalized discrimination against indigenous people over centuries may account in part for this state of affairs. As a developing country struggling to meet both the demands of post-conflict transition and the challenges of a globalized economy, tackling poverty and exclusion must be understood as a long-haul task.

The 1996 Peace Accords which ended the 36-year internal armed conflict set out a road map for addressing these ills as underlying causes of the conflict. Agreed and adopted by representatives of the state, political parties and civil society, the accords set out a detailed framework of commitments explicitly aimed at the realization of economic, social and cultural rights as a solid foundation for peace.

Progress has not kept pace with these commitments. Many of these pledges have remained a dead letter, with some of the most important structural reforms mandated by the agreements - particularly those related to land and taxation - having been repeatedly blocked by those who see their vested interests threatened by them.

CESR's work in Guatemala

Rights or privileges?: Fiscal commitment to the rights to health, education and food in Guatemala

During 2008 and 2009 CESR conducted a collaborative and interdisciplinary research and advocacy project on the right to health, food and education with Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales (ICEFI), an organization which undertakes research, analysis, training and advocacy on fiscal policy in Central America. The study was conducted by a team that included researchers from CESR and ICEFI, as well as Guatemalan experts in the field of health and political economy, and representatives from Guatemalan social movements. The project includes a case study of the municipality of Senahu in Alta Verapaz, where the human impact of the issues described in the report are analyzed in context. A series of group and individual interviews has enabled the team to document the stories and experiences of individuals from affected communities, whose voice can give a more compelling account than any set of statistics or indicators.

The final report of this research, "¿Derechos o privilegios? El compromiso fiscal con la salud, la educación y la alimentación en Guatemala", applies the methodology CESR has developed to monitor violations of economic and social rights more effectively. By integrating socioeconomic and legal analysis, this approach can better advocate for government accountability in policies and practices that lead to flagrant and preventable deprivations.

The report argues that one of the main reasons for the persistent and historical non-realization of economic and social rights in Guatemala is the lack of political will by democratic governments to invest more in upholding those rights, and ensuring that resources reach the most vulnerable population. Guatemala's social budget as a percentage of GDP is one of the lowest in the region. Moreover, the historical pressure by social elites has blocked every effort of fiscal reform in order to maximize the public resources needed to meet Guatemalans' needs. Read more...

Current CESR work in Guatemala

As a follow up to the "Rights or Privileges?" report, CESR began a new research project in 2010 in collaboration with Centro Internacional para Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos (CIIDH). Its objective is to analyze fiscal policy commitments to improve maternal health and, in particular, to reduce maternal mortality. Guatemala has one of the highest maternal mortality rates of the region and, although some efforts have been made to improve these health conditions, not enough resources are directed to address this problem. Moreover, the invisibility of the resources allocated to maternal health in the budget makes it more difficult for the civil society to monitor the state's efforts to fulfil the right to health in Guatemala using the maximum of its available resources. The final report of this study be published in 2011 and trainings for civil society on how to monitor resources in the area of maternal health will follow its launch.

Case study - Assessing public policies from a human rights perspective: the use of available resources to realize ESC rights in Guatemala
This case study provides a step-by-step explanation of how the OPERA methodology was deployed to to assess Guatemala’s compliance with its development and human rights commitments.
Guatemala Fact Sheet
This 2008 fact sheet focuses on the rights to health, food and education in Guatemala. Guatemala has some of the worst social outcomes in Latin America: About 50 percent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition; almost one in three children does not complete primary school; and 290 women die from complications in pregnancy or childbirth (for every 100,000 live births), the worst rate in Latin America along with Bolivia.
Guatemala: Rights or Privileges?
Fiscal commitments and the rights to food, health and education in Guatemala. CESR's 2009 joint report with Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales.
Guatemala: Joint Submission to the UN Human Rights Committee
August 6th, 2010
CESR, in cooperation with the Multidisciplinary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Rights of Guatemala and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, submitted a report to the Human Rights Committee about health and economic issues affecting women in Guatemala, July 2010.
Guatemala: Submission to UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
CESR joint submission with Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales (ICEFI) to the UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child, for its 54th session, May 2010 (en español)
Guatemala: Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Education
(En español) Hallazgos y conclusiones preliminares del informe: "¿Derechos o Privilegios?: El compromiso fiscal con la salud, la educación y la alimentación en Guatemala" (2008)
Guatemala: Submission to UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR)
Submission by the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) and Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales (ICEFI) to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the occasion of the second session of the Universal Periodic Review, May 2008