Worldwide, indigenous peoples are facing serious violations of their human and environmental rights due to the imposition of extractive industry projects on their land. The Center is advising the Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ Agua Caliente Lote 9 community as it seeks protection of its communal rights over land and natural resources before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
In 2006, the Guatemala government issued a mining permit to CGN (Compañia Guatemalteca de Níquel), a nickel company, in complete disregard for Agua Caliente's forty yearlong efforts to formalize their land titles, and in flagrant defiance of domestic and international law. By failing to title the communities' lands and granting the permit without previous consultation with Agua Caliente and other affected communities, Guatemala violated their rights to property, self-government, due process of law, and judicial protection.
The blatant violation of their rights led Agua Caliente's leaders to open a case before Guatemalan courts, a case they won in 2011. The Constitutional Court, the highest court on constitutional matters, made a precedent-setting decision recognizing Agua Caliente’s land ownership and ordering Guatemala’s executive branch to take all corrective actions necessary to properly title the community’s lands. Agua Caliente has the largest nickel deposits on its lands; mining interests in its territory have led to acts of intimidation, death threats, and serious acts of violence, including murder. Due to the government's non-compliance with this decision, the Center filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against Guatemala in mid-2011.
The system of surveying, titling, and registering indigenous lands in Guatemala is ineffective. Land survey is highly manipulated against indigenous peoples. Long after its completion, RIC (Registro de Informacion Catastral), Guatemala's cadastral agency, neglected to share the results of a World-Bank funded land administration project that surveyed the lands of about seventeen Maya Q'eqchi' communities in El Estor, including Agua Caliente's lands. Unfortunately, land titling procedures do not function in a timely manner in Guatemala; Agua Caliente has been subject to Guatemala's titling agency' (Fondo Nacional de Tierras) land titling procedure for more than forty years but has not been able to secure its title. Moreover, record-keeping systems are vulnerable to irregularities and manipulations which often lead to land frauds. In fact, important records about Agua Caliente's lands have been intentionally removed from the system to prevent tilting.
The Agua Caliente case is emblematic because it is challenging the government's practice of promoting legal insecurity for the recognition of indigenous lands to pave the way for extractive industry projects on said lands. The case addresses the ineffectiveness of Guatemala's system of surveying, titling, and registering indigenous lands. It also questions Guatemala's lack of legislation recognizing indigenous peoples' full collective ownership of the lands and resources under their traditional possession.
The Center will continue to represent Agua Caliente in this international proceeding to secure strong measures to protect Maya Q'eqchi' land rights, their environment, and the lives of their community leaders.