Access to land and the management of natural resources, especially in the territory of indigenous peoples, continued to be one of the main sources of conflict in the country this year. On 1 March 2018, a bill was introduced in Congress for a law on the consultation of indigenous peoples. Backers of the bill say it regulates the procedures for consulting indigenous peoples about mining and other projects to guarantee the legality of the projects and respect for the rights of the Maya, Garifuna and Xinka peoples. According to indigenous representatives, independent analysts, and international bodies like the UN, this law will give the State the power to decide which issues are subject to consultation and who should be consulted, outlawing consultations that are directly organized by the indigenous peoples. Furthermore, referendum results will no longer be binding but merely a mechanism to reach agreements between indigenous peoples and companies with the implementation of mitigation measures for the people. Finally, it will institute a mechanism for decisions to be made by “qualified” representatives of indigenous peoples, ignoring the process of direct decision-making and consensus used by the indigenous communities.
In April, the Council of the Western Maya People (CPO) filed for an injunction with the Constitutional Court against this proposed law, which the council says violates several rights of indigenous peoples, including the right to consultation established by ILO Convention 169, the right to self-determination, and the right to free, prior and informed consent established in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In this context, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, made an official visit to Guatemala between May 1 and 10. She travelled to several departments and held meetings with a variety of actors: public authorities, civil society organizations, UN personnel and other members of the international community. Nearly 10,000 authorities and representatives of indigenous peoples attended meetings with the Rapporteur. In her final report, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz, expressed concerns about discrimination and marginalization of indigenous peoples in Guatemala, referring to extreme poverty, malnutrition, forced evictions and criminal persecution, urging the government to rebuild its relationship with indigenous peoples, and to ensure accountability and reparations to the victims of the internal armed conflict. Some of the written statements of the Rapporteur illustrate the aforementioned concerns in her diagnosis of the situation in Guatemala: While I was in the country I met numerous indigenous peoples who had been forcibly evicted without the provision of any humanitarian assistance. I also visited several indigenous leaders in prison who have been charged with criminal offences which appear to be inflated and who have been subjected to lengthy pre-trial detention. The root cause of the situation is land tenure insecurity. Guatemala has not adopted legislation nor a mechanism for the adjudication of the rights of indigenous peoples to lands, territories and natural resources. Many are left in a situation of total vulnerability in the face of competing interests and numerous projects that are carried out without consultations or the consent of the peoples concerned. The criminalization of indigenous leaders who seek specific and legal solutions to land disputes will only increase tensions in society. It is necessary that Guatemala identifies, confronts and starts to work towards the resolution of these structural problems.