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COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION DISCUSSES ANTI-DISCRIMINATION EFFORTS IN GUATEMALA WITH NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS

24 April 2019

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an informal meeting with representatives of non-governmental organizations with respect to Guatemala, whose report on the implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination will be considered this week.  A report presented by Andorra will also be reviewed, but no civil society representatives were present from that country.

Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the representatives of non-governmental organizations.  He recalled that their report had been posted on the Committee’s website.

During the discussion, representatives of non-governmental organizations from Guatemala said that the report that was submitted by the Government of Guatemala did not reflect the nature of the situation in the country.  That was why they had put together a report reflecting the situation as it really was, plagued by systemic racism. The policies to which the Government referred in its report did not contribute to the eradication of racism and discrimination.  For instance, the official report mentioned so-called progress when in fact legal institutions in Guatemala had carried out flagrant violations of indigenous peoples’ rights.  The Constitutional Court had had to intervene.  It was concerning that the Government had failed to comply with its obligations and contravened the rulings of the court.  The land rights of indigenous peoples must be checked and restored, and lower courts must play an oversight role in that regard.

There was forced labour and exploitation in Guatemala, representatives of non-governmental organizations added. There were companies that continued to exploit workers on a daily basis.  Slavery and human rights violations of the workers were ongoing while the State, through the Labour Ministry, tolerated these practices. The State of Guatemala and its institutions must put an end, once and for all, to these practices, the victims of which were the indigenous peoples who worked in the north of the country.

Speaking in the discussion on Guatemala were the Coalition of Indigenous Peoples Maya, Garífuna and Xinca, and people of African descent, Movimiento de mujeres indígenas Tz`ununija, Indigenous Peoples with Disabilities, and Ancestral Authorities.

The Committee will next meet in public today, 24 April at 3 p.m. to consider the report of Andorra (CERD/C/AND/1-6).

Opening Statement

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the representatives of non-governmental organizations.  He recalled that they were here to report on Guatemala, and that their report had been posted on the Committee’s website.

Statements on Guatemala

Coalition of Indigenous Peoples Maya, Garífuna and Xinca, and people of African descent stated that the Xinca people had been isolated from the political system, and even though they generated a huge amount of electricity for the country, many members of this community did not have access to it. Nefarious practices on the part of the Government had undermined the negotiation process with indigenous communities.  Extremely large natural resources extraction projects accumulated wealth in a few hands.  The Coalition called on the Committee to encourage the Government to shoulder its commitment to conduct consultation with indigenous communities, in keeping with the Constitutional Court’s rulings, in order to reduce racism.

The report that was submitted by the Government of Guatemala did not reflect the nature of the situation, the Coalition said.  The Committee must take the State to account for not reflecting the realities of racial discrimination in the report that it submitted.  That was why the Coalition of Indigenous Peoples Maya, Garífuna and Xinca, and people of African descent had put together a report reflecting a different reality plagued by systemic racism. The policies that the Government had included in its report did not contribute to the eradication of racism and discrimination.

The official report referred to so-called progress when in fact the legal institutions in Guatemala had carried out flagrant violations of indigenous peoples’ rights and the Constitutional Court had had to intervene.  It was concerning that the Government had failed to comply with its obligations and contravened the rulings of the court. The Government had flagrantly violated the human rights of indigenous peoples. The land rights of indigenous peoples must be checked and restored, and lower courts must play an oversight role in that regard.

There was forced labour and exploitation in Guatemala. There were companies that continued to exploit workers on a daily basis.  Slavery and human rights violations of the workers were ongoing while the State, through the Labour Ministry, tolerated these practices, as well as other activities that amounted to human trafficking. The State of Guatemala and its institutions must put an end once and for all to these practices, the victims of which were the indigenous peoples who worked in the north of the country.

The Committee had been sent a report put together by 44 non-governmental organizations. The activities of indigenous peoples who sought to defend their rights were criminalized in Guatemala. Indigenous leaders were targeted by slander and libel campaigns.  Criminal laws had been revised to facilitate the criminalization of indigenous peoples. Communities that had demonstrated against a hydroelectric project had suffered suppression at the hand of the army, and yet the State had failed to address the concerns of the communities. The Coalition of Indigenous Peoples Maya, Garífuna and Xinca, and people of African descent called on the Committee to pay attention to this phenomenon and defend the rights of the affected indigenous populations.

Movimiento de mujeres indígenas Tz`ununija stated that Guatemala had not adopted the Convention’s definition of racial discrimination. Some bodies that had been set up to that end had been politicized.  The situation had not changed in the past 24 years, despite the signing of a peace agreement.  Maternal mortality still primarily affected indigenous women. Studies had shown that racism in Guatemala generated losses equivalent to 3.3 per cent of the gross domestic product in the country.  Women were most affected by the monolingual support offered to indigenous communities.  While various human rights mechanisms existed, they were undermined by the lack of political will, their non-operationalization and the absence of monitoring tools.  It was still not guaranteed that women could exercise fundamental rights in the sphere of justice and other spheres of public life. In Guatemala, the violation of the rights of indigenous peoples was systematic and crimes went unpunished, as the State itself was the perpetrator. 

The Xinca community lived in a region rich in resources. Preserving their traditions and their territories had been difficult due to historic discrimination on the part of the State. The rights of the Xinca people were violated, as was the principle of non-discrimination.  There were significant violations of the Xinca, as extraction projects were being conducted in a region where five of the most important Xinca sites were located. The national registry of people had denied the Xinca people their identity.  The State should establish the protection of the land of the Xinca; respect the Government of the Xinca people by eliminating committees that were undermining its authority; and refrain from criminalizing the Xinca community when they were seeking to fight against forced evictions and defend their rights.

Questions by a Committee Expert

ALEXEI S. AVTONOMOV, Committee Rapporteur for Guatemala, said the situation was grave for the Mayas, Garífunas and Xincas.  He asked the non-governmental organizations for recommendations, and requested that they be specific. The goal was to alleviate the plight of indigenous communities that suffered from evictions and land grabbing.

Statements on Guatemala

Indigenous Peoples with Disabilities said the cross-cutting aspect of rights had to be recognized. The rights of indigenous persons with disabilities should be examined accordingly. In Guatemala, the number of indigenous persons with disabilities might be over 700 000.  Persons with disability, notably indigenous boys, girls and women, were subjected to systemic discrimination. Article 9 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities notably required that States parties enact legislation to ensure equal access to information, space and transportation in rural and urban areas for persons with disabilities. This article should be implemented in full in Guatemala, in harmony with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  While the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was ratified in 2008, there was still a huge gap in the participation of persons with disabilities, notably in rural areas. Their participation, both as voters and persons standing for election, fell short.  In addition, girls with disability were still subjected to forced sterilization and persons with disabilities were forcibly institutionalized.  There were multiple types of discrimination suffered by indigenous peoples, in particular indigenous persons with disabilities.

Ancestral Authorities raised concerns about public institutions that sought to regularize land grabbing, and, in that regard, drew the Committee’s attention to bill 5188, which ran counter to international law and the Constitution of Guatemala.  The State had evicted indigenous peoples from their land and had favoured municipalities, businesses and the army over indigenous peoples. Indigenous communities were persecuted by the State, through municipal authorities. 

Questions by a Committee Expert

A Committee Expert said the existence for spaces for conversation at the national level were important and asked whether that really existed. He inquired about the role that indigenous communities would be playing with regard to Sustainable Development Goal number 3.  What was the Government doing to ensure that no one was left behind?  He also asked about the exchanges between indigenous groups and groups of people of African descent.

Answers on Guatemala

Coalition of Indigenous Peoples Maya, Garífuna and Xinca, and people of African descent explained that the State of Guatemala should respect the decision handed down by the Constitutional Court. The moratorium that was mentioned in the official report must be questioned.  Notwithstanding court rulings, the State had not organized any consultations, and for that reason, cases were still being brought to court. This was a very complex issue, and while it had been presented as a success for indigenous peoples, there had not been any consultations.  In addition, the cases of criminalization of indigenous authorities and defenders of land rights should be considered as pertaining to social conflicts, not as amounting to crimes: they could not be resolved through prosecution. It was not a crime to defend one’s life or one’s land.  The State was obliged to consult people; there needed to be a culture of dialogue and rapprochement.  There were ancestral authorities in indigenous communities that had a role to play in that regard.  There were still racist laws in Guatemala, which openly contravened the Convention.  All indigenous communities that had brought cases against the State had been criminalized. The Government should stop resorting to these tactics.

Further, Coalition of Indigenous Peoples Maya, Garífuna and Xinca, and people of African descent clarified that specific cases were brought against the Ministry of Labour. The inspectorate was not careful enough and did not punish companies.  There were no interpreters present during labour inspection, even though several workers did not speak Spanish. The general labour inspectorate should be strengthened.  There were not enough inspectors in the country; it was impossible for them to properly monitor all sites and potential labour rights violations.

Indigenous Peoples with Disabilities said that it was also important to recognize that the Guatemalan justice system was one of the least accessible in South America. Forced sterilization had not been recognized as a form of violence in Guatemala.  This practice was widespread and even considered as a positive approach to deal with persons with disabilities in some cases.

Movimiento de mujeres indígenas Tz`ununija said there must be respect for the Xinca people. The Government must avoid the criminalization of members of the Xinca community who were attempting to defend their rights.  They should be allowed to enter an open dialogue with the State.

Concluding Remarks

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, thanked the non-governmental organizations for shedding light on the situation in Guatemala.



For use of the information media; not an official record

CERD/19/2E