MAC: Mines and Communities

Maya Q'eqchi' seek help to gain justice in Guatemala

Published by MAC on 2011-09-06
Source: Indian Law Resource Centre, CIEL, MiningWatch Canada

Maya Q'eqchi' seek help to gain justice in Guatemala

Indian Law Resource Centre Release

22 August 2011

Washington, D.C. - A small indigenous community, seeking protection for their land and human rights, filed a petition on August 19 against Guatemala with an international human rights body.

Agua Caliente, a Maya Q'eqchi' indigenous community of 385 people living in El Estor, in the country's Izabal province, filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concerning the violation of their rights to property, self-government, due process of law and judicial protection by the state of Guatemala. The Commission is an independent organ of the Organization of American States, created by countries to promote and protect human rights in the Americas

The complaint centers on a 40-year dispute over the community's traditional ownership rights to land rich with nickel deposits. The Guatemala government gave Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN), a former subsidiary of HudBay Minerals from Canada, rights to extract nickel from lands held by sixteen Maya Q'eqchi' communities, including Agua Caliente. The permission was granted without regard for the ownership and self government rights of the communities. Additionally, Guatemala failed to properly notify and consult with community members. In February 2011, Guatemala's highest court ruled in favor of Agua Caliente, recognizing their collective property rights and questioning the legality of the mining permits and activities on their traditional lands.

"Guatemala has not fully complied with court orders from the Constitutional Court," said Leonardo Crippa, an attorney with the Indian Law Resource Center, which represents the Agua Caliente community. "We have exhausted all of the state processes for justice and we are now left with only one option, to seek an international intervention."

The Court ordered Guatemala's executive branch to take all corrective actions necessary to properly title Agua Caliente's lands. This includes replacing pages that were removed from the official land registry book, pages that show land ownership belongs to the Agua Caliente community, but which have gone missing. According to the Court, the executive branch's failure to properly register and title indigenous lands violates Agua Caliente's land rights and rights to equality before the law, as well as the legal principle of self-determination. "We hope by working with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Guatemala will fulfill its obligations to protect human rights and to adopt measures to meet international standards toward indigenous peoples," said Crippa.

The Indian Law Resource Center and Defensoria Q'eqchi', an indigenous human rights organization based in El Estor, have been advising the communities, and in 2009, brought forward legal action on behalf of Agua Caliente, the community with the largest deposits of nickel on their lands.

Because of rich natural resources in the Maya Q'eqchi' territory, the communities have faced efforts by local government and mine security forces to evict them from their lands. The Maya Q'eqchi' cultural and spiritual beliefs are deeply rooted to the land they have traditionally possessed and the lands are critical for their physical and cultural survival. The communities have long been concerned about the impacts of mining on the environment as they rely on the natural resources of the land and the nearby Lake Izabal, the largest lake in Guatemala, for food and economic resources. Without respecting Agua Caliente's land rights and without consultation with the community, Guatemala continues to act in opposition to domestic and international law.

Contact: Lorena Vaca
+1-202-547-2800, ext. 101

Guatemala defies human rights body, refuses to suspend Marlin mine

CIEL & MiningWatch Canada Press Statement

4 August 2011

Guatemala City - After a year of delays, Guatemala has backtracked on its promise to comply with precautionary measures issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and to suspend Goldcorp's Marlin mine.

On May 20, 2010, the IACHR, a body of the Organization of American States, ordered Guatemala to suspend mining operations to prevent imminent harm to communities living near the Marlin mine. On June 23, 2010, President Álvaro Colom committed to implement the measures. Instead, however, Colom initiated an administrative process that was supposed to take three months. Over a year later, the Ministry of Energy and Mines has refused to suspend the Marlin mine, arguing that it lacks evidence of water contamination. The Guatemalan government then requested that the IACHR modify or lift the precautionary measures.

"By their very nature, precautionary measures are issued because there is sufficient threat of imminent and irreversible harm," remarks Senior Attorney Kris Genovese of the Center for International Environmental Law in Washington, D.C. "It isn't for Guatemala to decide if the measures are warranted. By its own admission, the Government of Guatemala failed to consider independent scientific studies, which reveal evidence of arsenic-rich groundwater being drawn into surface waters, and relatively high levels of lead in the blood of those living closest to the mine."

"The order to suspend mine operations is designed to protect the right to life. This is a right that cannot be negotiated," says Ramon Cadenas, Guatemalan representative of the International Commission of Jurists. "The Guatemalan state has demonstrated that it lacks the capacity to protect the rights of its citizens in this case, which is the very reason the IACHR issued the precautionary measures. The IACHR did not ask Guatemala to judge whether or not contamination, or any other risks, exist for people affected by the Marlin mine. The state has tried to distort the meaning of what the commission said."

Local human rights defenders are disillusioned, but not surprised.

"The Guatemalan state will never say it's Goldcorp's fault. They write reports to suit their own interests," states Miguel Angel Bámaca, resident of the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacán where the Marlin mine is located. "They say there's no danger, but it's not true. They think it's just fine for us to have to put up with disaster; to personally bear the brunt of the mine's impacts through the air we breathe, through possible flooding of the tailings pond, through impacts in our homes and on our lands."

Since the precautionary measures were issued, attacks on environmental and indigenous rights defenders in the province of San Marcos, where the mine operates, have been on the rise. In the first four months of 2011, the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA) reported that the number of attacks against human rights defenders in this northwestern province exceeded the number of attacks against human rights defenders in all other areas of Guatemala combined.

"It's deplorable that the Guatemalan state has not complied with its obligations to protect people's lives in the communities of San Miguel Ixtahuacán," says Claudia Samayoa, Coordinator of UDEFEGUA in Guatemala City. "The State's failure to ensure effective consultation, to de-escalate conflict created by the mine's operations, and to guarantee security for human rights defenders creates an unfavorable climate in which to exercise one's human rights."

For mine-affected residents, the Ministry of Energy and Mine's announcement is not the end of their struggle. Bámaca adds, "They have tried to silence us, but we will continue raising our voices until this "tortoise" reaches the finish line."

* * *

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) is committed to strengthening and using international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society. CIEL is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocacy in the global public interest, including through legal counsel, policy research, analysis, education, training and capacity building.

MiningWatch Canada (MWC) is a pan-Canadian initiative supported by environmental, social justice, Aboriginal and labour organizations from across the country. It addresses the urgent need for a co-ordinated public interest response to the threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat and community interests posed by irresponsible mineral policies and practices in Canada and around the world.

Contact: Kris Genovese, Center for International Environmental Law, (202) 742-5831
Jennifer Moore, MiningWatch Canada, (613) 569-3439

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