Press Release

Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Conducted Working Visit to Guatemala

September 18, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) carried out a working visit to Guatemala on August 21-30, 2013. The visit aimed to gather information on the situation of indigenous peoples in Guatemala, with special emphasis on the discrimination and exclusion experienced by indigenous peoples, as well as the situation involving their lands, territories, and natural resources and their right to prior, free, and informed consultation. The delegation was led by the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Commissioner Dinah Shelton.

The delegation met with State authorities; indigenous organizations, authorities, leaders, and communities; and human rights defenders, civil society organizations, and academics. The delegation visited Guatemala City on August 21-22; Cobán, August 23; Valle del Polochic, August 24; Nebaj, August 25; Huehuetenango, August 26; Totonicapán, August 27; San Marcos, August 28; Chichicastenango, August 28; and Guatemala City, August 29-20. The information obtained during the visit will be one source of input for the preparation of a report on the human rights situation of indigenous peoples in Guatemala.

“We were able to substantiate that racism and discrimination against indigenous peoples persists in Guatemala, but also that the government has initiated several new programs intended to address this situation. Unfortunately, disproportionate rates of poverty, extreme poverty, and child malnutrition, persist among the rural indigenous population” Rapporteur Dinah Shelton said. “It is also of concern that the current licenses for mining and hydroelectric plants were granted without the State having implemented prior, free, and informed consultation with affected indigenous communities, as it is obligated to do under international treaties signed by Guatemala,” she added.

Commissioner Shelton welcomed recognition by the government of the need for law reform, especially with respect to laws on mining, water, and the environment, to fulfill the State's international commitments. She also underscored her concern over the reports of murders, rapes, threats, and acts of harassment directed against indigenous authorities and leaders and human rights defenders, including judges and prosecutors, in the country.

On another matter, the IACHR received information after the visit indicating that the President of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, had given instructions to the Peace Secretariat to provide humanitarian aid to the family members of the victims of the incidents of October 4, 2012, when six people died and another 34 were injured during a military operation against a protest demonstration. The Commission welcomes this initiative and trusts that it will be implemented as soon as possible.

The Commission thanks the government of Guatemala for agreeing to the visit and thanks the authorities and peoples of Guatemala for the hospitality with which they received the delegation and for the assistance they provided. The Commission also values and deeply appreciates the information provided by the indigenous peoples and their leaders and ancestral authorities, as well as by government authorities, civil society organizations, and others.

Other Activities in Guatemala

The Office of the Rapporteur also organized a meeting of experts and a workshop. It held a “Meeting of Indigenous Women Experts from Central America and Mexico” in Guatemala City on August 19-20, 2013, with the participation of 15 indigenous women from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Mexico. The meeting was part of the consultation and information-gathering process the IACHR is carrying out to prepare a regional report on the situation of indigenous women in the Americas. The purpose of the report will be to analyze the multiple forms of discrimination and violence that affect indigenous women in the exercise of their rights.

A training workshop held on August 20 focused on “Dialogue on the Rights of Indigenous Women in the Inter-American System.” Those attending heard from the indigenous women invited to the meeting of experts, who spoke to the workshop about the various protection mechanism offered by the inter-American human rights system, with special emphasis on indigenous women.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 66/13