Commissioners:  Dinah Shelton (President), María Silvia Guillén, Rodrigo Escobar Gil

Asociación Popular Campesina de Desarrollo (APCD), Asociación para el Desarrollo Integral de El Quiché (ADIQKUMOOL), Asociación Coordinadora Nacional de Viudas de Guatemala (CONAVIGUA), María Toj Mendoza (desplazada de la Comunidad “Mario Antonio Díaz”)

Guatemala Secretary for Peace and National Reparations Program

On October 24, 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a thematic hearing on the forced displacement of communities in Guatemala. Representatives from organizations that work with the victims of the 36-year internal conflict in Guatemala, several members of displaced indigenous communities, and an attorney who represents such communities presented claims of human rights violations against the state. Sergio Gonzalez, a representative from an organization that works with victims, addressed the state’s representatives, requesting attention for those communities displaced by violence during the Guatemalan conflict between the years 1970-1996. During this time, Gonzalez said, police and army forces targeted indigenous populations with a policy of ethnic genocide. Community members suffered machine gun fire, and entire indigenous communities were forced to leave their ancestral lands. Gonzalez told the Commission, since the 1997 Guatemala Agreement on a Firm and Lasting Peace, survivors of such massacres and mass displacement have put forth proposals to the government for programs and services needed. However, the representatives of those displaced communities say they have never seen such aid or any of the promised public services.

Three members of such communities represented the petitioners and told their stories about struggling with internal displacement in Guatemala. Nicolas Ramirez, an indigenous resident of the Sebol region, described the human rights abuses that occurred in his town. He spoke of his wife, who was killed in a massacre by military forces, and demanded that the state take action to provide reparations and services to survivors and to ensure non-repetition. Ramirez, along with the other representatives of displaced peoples, asked the state how it plans to provide services and reparations to displaced communities throughout Guatemala. They each described their communities’ experiences in the years since the peace accord – most have either resettled in a different environment and culture from their ancestral lands or have returned to their homes to find a newly established military presence and state-sanctioned exploitation of natural resources. The communities’ attorney, who spoke last in the petitioners’ twenty-minute presentation, pointed to these most recent human rights violations as the most worrisome because they do not demonstrate the state’s commitment to non-repetition.

In response, attorneys from the National Reparations Program, a representative of the Secretary for Peace, and other government representatives spoke on behalf of the state. They each identified specific programs that the Guatemalan government has created since the peace accords. Madrileña Rodriguez de Cupe, one of the state’s attorneys, described programs created to identify victims and establish reparation funds for survivors by exhuming bodies from clandestine graves and creating a forensic database of victims. She spoke of psychological care and social services provided for victims in accordance with the peace agreement. Rodriguez de Cupe also commended the state for moving forward to repair the harms caused during the conflict. Cesar Aguilar, the director of the National Reparations Program, highlighted the changing political culture in Guatemala. He said that the government does not wish to deny what happened in the country’s past and that the government can create a proposal for consultation with displaced indigenous populations on future programs.

After the petitioners and the state gave their presentations, Commissioner Shelton asked the state’s representatives about the concrete measures being taken to avoid further displacement. She said she was concerned about remilitarization in ancestral lands and what the government can do to make sure indigenous peoples are not forced off their land again. Commissioner Escobar Gil requested that both parties submit in writing responses to his questions regarding official figures for the number of displaced individuals in Guatemala, the special policies, if any, in place to address the issues of particularly marginalized groups (including women, indigenous peoples, and disabled individuals), and budget provisions for these specialized programs. Commissioner Guillén addressed the state, asking what further steps it plans to take beyond the current programs because there are clearly indigenous communities who are not receiving the services identified during the state’s presentation. She emphasized the importance of non-repetition and pointed out that the same human rights violations, such as the remilitarization of certain ancestral lands, seem to be repeating themselves today under different rationales.

Both parties briefly responded, and the hearing ended with Commissioner Shelton’s request for the written answers to the Commission’s questions to be submitted as soon as possible.