Guatemala’s indigenous peoples demand protection of their rights

By agency reporter
18 Oct 2013

The human rights of indigenous peoples in Guatemala are under threat due to large scale extraction of natural resources and on-going encroachment on their lands.

Their conflict with the state over these issues is now impacting their security, said Pablo Ceto, an indigenous community leader and a human rights activist from Ixil, Guatemala.

He shared these views during his visit to the World Council of Churches (WCC) offices on 15 October 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland. Ceto serves as director of the Fundamaya, an organisation working for the rights of indigenous peoples in Guatemala.

Ceto met with staff of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA). The CCIA will highlight the issues of people affected by transnational corporations and business enterprises in Guatemala at the Second United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights to be held in Geneva from 2 to 4 December. At the forum, the CCIA will facilitate participation of human rights activists and indigenous leaders from Guatemala.

During the meeting Ceto explained that despite strong opposition against land grabbing and exploitation of natural resources, state and the multinational corporations operating in the areas of mining and extraction are violating the rights of indigenous peoples.

The current conflict between indigenous communities and the government is a continuation of the country’s 36-year long civil war which ended in 1996 with the signing of peace accords. The conflict claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people, out of which 80 per cent were indigenous civilians of Mayan descent.

However, in the subsequent post-war period, the Guatemalan government enacted several policies aimed at making the country more financially attractive to foreign investors.

The new policies of government created proliferation through transnational and national resource extraction projects in lands which belonged to the indigenous peoples, Ceto explained.

Indigenous peoples of Guatemala had been striving for their right to “free, prior and informed consent” (FPIC) on mega-projects near their communities, but without any effective measures being taken by the state. It has been widely reported that the multinational corporations and the government are consistently violating indigenous people’s right to FPIC, which is affecting the security of indigenous communities.

As part of the WCC’s efforts of supporting human rights in Guatemala, a CCIA delegation visited the country in November 2012 when they were informed by the indigenous leaders that a number of indigenous peoples are denied their right to their ancestral land, which continues to be a reason behind social unrest.

Currently land grabbing in indigenous people’s territory has been increasing, despite Guatemala’s having ratified the International Labour Organization Convention 169, which stipulates consultation with the indigenous peoples for the use of land and their territory.

[Ekk/3]

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