Report by fact-finding delegation of lawyers to Guatemala calls on the state to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples in the context of the agrarian conflict

A delegation of international lawyers to Guatemala, which included Stephen Cragg KC, Ben Cooper KC, Camila Zapata Besso and Margherita Cornaglia of DSC’s International Team, published its final report at the end of 2023.

“We are not trespassers: this is our land” - Agrarian conflict and Indigenous peoples’ rights in Alta Verapaz concludes that violations of Indigenous peoples' collective rights to communal ownership of ancestral lands are widespread in Guatemala. It calls on the state to:

  • Stand up to vested interests and tackle the systematic failures fuelling violence against Indigenous peoples;
  • Consider structural reform to overcome systematic land dispossession continuing since the internal armed conflict;
  • Prioritise Indigenous rights to ancestral land, and to work to end the criminalisation and evictions characterising the country’s ongoing agrarian conflict;
  • Be alive to the private sector's significant role, and the need for supply chain due diligence to ensure that extractive, energy and agribusiness companies do not profit from human rights violations.

The report came at a time of acute constitutional crisis in the country, in the midst of state authorities’ attempts to undermine the results of recent democratic elections. Fortunately, there has now been a peaceful transfer of power to the democratic President-elect Bernardo Arévalo. The delegation members hope that the new presidential administration and the relevant branches of the state will have the political courage required to achieve profound systemic change and ensure that Guatemala is aligned with its international obligations.

The report was launched at events in London and Washington. Camila, the report’s lead drafter, presented its findings at key meetings with UK Parliamentarians, the FCDO and the APPG on Human Rights, which resulted in Parliamentary questions being tabled about the report’s concerns, and about the democratic crisis Guatemala that was suffering at the time (see here and here). She was later invited to the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva where she discussed the report’s findings with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Francisco Cali Tzay) and members of civil society.

In Washington, the report was presented, and its findings discussed, at meetings with members of the United States Congress; Secretary-General of the Organization of American States Luis Amalgro; U.S. State Department officials, and officials of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. As a result of the meetings, Congresswomen Delia Ramirez and Norma Torres joined a delegation of U.S. Senators to Guatemala in December 2023.

More information and the delegation's full press release is available here. A Spanish-language version of the report is available here.