Image courtesy of Media Co-op
“This is a historic opportunity for Guatemala’s highest court to uphold indigenous rights,” Francisco Mateo Morales of the Western People’s Council (CPO, for it’s Spanish initials) explained. The CPO has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Guatemala’s 1997 mining law for its failure to consult with affected indigenous peoples.
A Legal Struggle for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The 1997 law infringes upon both national and international laws protecting indigenous rights. In 1996 rebel fighters and the Guatemalan government signed the post-civil war Peace Accords which included the Agreement of the Rights and Identity of Indigenous Peoples. They also signed the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples. Both of these documents were incredibly important, as the 36 year civil war left a disproportional number of indigenous people dead. These agreements have been relatively ignored by the government and mining companies, continuing the abuse of the indigenous people of Guatemala.
In the first 6 months of his term, President Otto Perez Molina approved 68 new exploration and exploitation licences, with a current total of 387 mining concessions and734 more pending, the majority of which are on indigenous land. Furthermore, Molina recently proposed reforms to the mining law which would allow for state participation in mining projects and once again allow for the approval of new mining concessions. The previous president had placed a moratorium in 2008 when the Constitutional Court ruled 7 articles of the mining law unconstitutional, which would be reversed with Molina’s proposals.
A Violent Attack on Indigenous Peoples
Of the 70 municipalities polled, one million Guatemalans have voted against mining in their territories, yet this has been ignored. Even worse, violence against those that openly oppose mining is increasing. Many existing mines have caused extensive environmental damage to the surrounding areas, as well as inflicted human rights abuses against employees and locals. For example, the Goldcorp Marlin mine in the Northeast has been recommended to close by several international human rights organizations for the failure to consult with the local indigenous people, threatening their water supply, and harming public health.
The rights of indigenous people need to be upheld. We at The Pachamama Alliance stand with indigenous peoples in their fight for self-determination and land rights.