• Indigenous peoples in Guatemala

    Indigenous peoples in Guatemala

    Guatemala is home to 24 principal ethnic groups. Although the Government of Guatemala has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the country’s indigenous peoples continue to face a number of challenges.


Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala

Guatemala is home to 24 ethnic groups. Although the Government of Guatemala has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the country’s Indigenous Peoples continue to face a number of challenges, especially in terms of political participation, health, employment, income, housing, and education.

Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala

Guatemala has a population of 14.9 million people, of which 6.5 million (43.75%) belong to the 22 Mayan (Achi’, Akatec, Awakatec, Chalchitec, Ch’ortí, Chuj, Itzá, Ixil, Jacaltec, Kaq- chikel, K’iche, Mam, Mopan, Poqomam, Poqomchí, Q’anjob’al, Q’eqchí, Sakapultec, Sipakapense, Tektitek, Tz’utujil and Us- pantek), one Garífuna, one Xinca and one Creole or Afro-descendant peoples.

The country still lacks a differentiated statistical base on Indigenous Peoples, especially on Indigenous women, but it is well-known that there are disparities between the Indigenous and the non-indigenous population in employment, income, health, and education.

Statistics clearly demonstrate persistent racism and discrimination against Indigenous Peoples. Despite representing more than half of the population and participating actively in the country’s economy, their political participation is not equitably reflected.

Main challenges for Guatemala’s Indigenous Peoples

One of the main struggles for Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala relates to political participation. The electoral system is defined by exclusion of Indigenous Peoples, and they primarily participate as voters, rather than as candidates with true possibilities of being elected.

With respect to health, employment, income, housing, and education, there is a great disparity between Indigenous Peoples and the rest of the population. Official data indicates that poverty affects 75% of Indigenous people and 36% of non-indigenous people; chronic malnutrition affects 58% of Indigenous people and 38% of non-indigenous people; and, in terms of political participation, Indigenous individuals represent no more than 15% of parliamentarians and high-ranking public officials.

Another challenge for Guatemala’s Indigenous Peoples relates to the absence of a water act. The use, management, and conservation of water are not officially regulated, and several private companies take advantage of this by not paying for their water usage, nor contributing to water conservation, and without assuming any responsibility for pollution caused by discharges of waste. The majority of groundwater recharge areas are located within Indigenous territories, and the affected Indigenous Peoples do not receive any support from the state or from water users to protect the aquifers. Several communities have demanded that the state commence a broad discussion to draft a water act, but they have yet to be met.

After provisionally protected the communities of the Q’eqchi people by opposing the construction of two internationally funded hydroelectric projects in their territory, the Constitutional Court eventually issued a final judgment that approves the continuation of the projects and forces the Government to formulate and approve a regulation to standardise the holding of community consultations. Indigenous and social organizations expressed their opposition. This ruling violates the rights of Indigenous Peoples, ILO Convention 169 and the laws of the country itself because community consultations do not require any regulation and must be carried out according to the mechanisms of the Indigenous Peoples.

Potential progress for Guatemala’s Indigenous Peoples

In 2016, 34 years after committing the crimes, a group of army officers were sentenced to 120 and 240 years of imprisonment for raping15 Maya Q’eqchi women and force them into sexual slavery. The case sets a precedent worldwide since it is the first time a crime of sexual abuse during an armed conflict has gone under trial in the same country where it was committed. However, other cases of crimes committed by the military against the indigenous population during the armed internal conflict remain in impunity.

Guatemala: Indigenous victims still await compensation

Carlos Chen Osorio is the only survivor of a Mayan Achí family whose members were brutally slaughtered by the army in five different massacres perpetrated during Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war against the inhabitants of Río Negro, a town in the northeastern department of Baja Verapaz. Chen lost 40 family members and today he leads the Association for the Integral Development of Mayan Achí Victims of Violence, an indigenous organization based in Baja Verapaz that seeks compensation for war victims.

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Report released on natural resource extraction and the Marlin Mine in Guatemala

The Special Rapporteur issues his report on the Situation of indigenous peoples of Guatemala in relation to natural resource extraction projects, and other projects, in their traditional territories. As an appendix to the report, he analyzes the human rights situation of communities affected by the Marlin mine in the municipalities of San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa, department of San Marcos.

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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