Landmark Indigenous Land Rights Decision

December 15, 2023--Today’s monumental decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Comunidad Indígena Maya Q’eqchi’ Agua Caliente v. Guatemala is a tremendous victory for the Mayan community of Agua Caliente in Guatemala. It is another major foundation stone for the legal recognition and protection of collective indigenous land rights in the Americas and around the world. We are very proud that the Indian Law Resource Center has represented and advised the community of Agua Caliente for almost 20 years in this case. The leaders of Agua Caliente and other Mayan communities have fought and worked for even more years, despite killings and other violence, threats, bribery, and government corruption.

Our Senior Attorney, Leonardo Crippa headed the legal team, which included local Mayan attorney, Carlos Pop. Armstrong Wiggins, head of our Washington, D.C. Office, provided crucial advocacy and support throughout the case, through long years of litigation, lawless government action, and scant resources for the community and for our legal work. I want to give particular thanks for the many years of faithful grant support for this case provided by the Overbrook Foundation. We are also grateful for the countless individual contributions, grants from tribes, and grants from other foundations that helped support our work.

This decision sets important legal precedents that will help to overturn and correct the unjust and oppressive laws and legal practices that continue in many countries of the Americas. This decision, along with the three earlier decisions that we have won, will form the legal basis for rooting out the laws and policies that have denied legal protection for indigenous lands since colonial times. Our previous landmark legal victories are: Mayagna (Sumo) Community of Awas Tingni v. NicaraguaMary and Carrie Dann v. United States; and Maya Indigenous Communities of Toledo District v. Belize. We are very proud of today’s decision, and we recognize its great legal importance as we carry on and expand our Indigenous Lands Initiative -- an eight-year project to assist indigenous communities to gain collective legal titles to their community lands in many countries of the Americas.

-Statement by Robert T. Coulter, Executive Director


For more information, please use the following links:

  • Indian Law Resource Center's press release (available in English only)
  • The Inter-American Court of Human Rights' press release (available in Spanish only)
  • The Inter-American Court of Human Rights' official case ruling (available in Spanish only)
  • Livestream of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights' ruling (available in Spanish only)