There continued to be great concerns about the situation of rural and indigenous communities and the threats of forced evictions they face. In July, IACHR and UN experts expressed concern about forced evictions and internal displacement in Guatemala, particularly in the communities of Laguna Larga (El Petén), Chaab´il Ch´och’ (Izabal), Nueva Semuy Chacchilla (Alta Verapaz), and La Cumbre Sa’kuxhá (Alta Verapaz), for which the IACHR and UN have granted protection measures. In addition to concerns about respect for the measures contained in international directives on evictions, the IACHR also noted the problem of internal displacement that such evictions produce, creating a humanitarian crisis for many people and violating their human rights.
PBI has monitored the problem of land access, particularly in the departments of Alta Verapaz and Izabal, while accompanying members of UVOC and CCDA-Las Verapaces. We have made two trips to El Petén to monitor the situation there.
The right to territory and the management of natural resources, particularly in the case of indigenous peoples, continued to be one of the main causes of conflict in the country during the year. In May, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples made an official visit to Guatemala. In her report at the end of her visit, she noted “that the situation of the Maya, Xinka and Garifuna peoples is characterized by serious structural problems, particularly the lack of protection for their rights to their lands, territories and resources and the racial discrimination that pervades all areas of life,” and she expressed “her deep concern at the resurgence of violence, forced evictions and the criminalization of indigenous peoples that defend their rights.” She added that “impunity, corruption, institutional weakness, the failure to implement the Peace Agreements and extreme economic and social inequality are the main obstacles” to resolving the country’s problems.
PBI helped arrange opportunities for the accompanied human rights defenders to meet with the Rapporteur and for the latter to take PBI’s concerns about the safety of indigenous defenders into account in her report.
Regarding the control over the territories in which they live, a law was proposed in the Guatemalan Congress on 1 March on consulting indigenous people. According to its supporters, the proposal would regulate the procedures for consulting indigenous peoples on mining projects and establish legal security for the works to be performed and guarantee respect for the rights of the Maya, Garifuna and Xinca peoples. The Western Maya People’s Council (CPO in Spanish) filed an appeal against the proposed law in April. According to the CPO, other indigenous representatives, independent analysts, the UN and other international bodies, the proposed law would empower the state to decide which matters should be consulted, and who should be consulted, prohibiting direct consultation of the people. Moreover, the referendums would not be binding, but would only serve as a means of reaching agreements between the people and the companies with the introduction of mitigation measures for the people. Finally, it would initiate a mechanism for decision-making by “qualified” representatives of the organized bodies of the people, ignoring the direct decision-making processes involving consensus used by the indigenous communities. In late 2018, the law on community consultation had still not been enacted.
In September, the CC ordered that a referendum be held in the Xinca communities near the San Rafael Mine (departments of Santa Rosa and Jalapa), pursuant to the provisions of ILO Convention 169. The court acknowledged the existence of the Xinca, ruled that the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) violated the law by not consulting them, and established the conditions for state institutions to ensure that the San Rafael Mine operates without harming the community and the environment. Although the business owners rejected the ruling, calling the suspension of their activities arbitrary, the MEM initiated the process for conducting the referendum.
Meanwhile, in December, the La Puya Peaceful Resistance movement, which consists of communities in the municipalities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc (Department of Guatemala), which oppose the Progreso VII Derivada mining project (on which work was suspended by the CC in February 2016), publicly complained that the U.S. company owning the mine sued the State of Guatemala for arbitration before the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), under the provisions of the CAFTA-DR trade agreement. The above represents another violation of the right to self-determination of the local communities.