Press Release

IACHR, UN Experts Express Concern over Forced Evictions and Internal Displacement in Guatemala

July 20, 2018

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Washington, D.C. – The IACHR and the United Nation’s]  Special Rapporteurs on Adequate Housing and on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons observe with concern the practice of forced evictions that the Guatemalan State has been implementing in recent years, as well as the forced displacement that has occurred as a result of that practice. The IACHR and both UN experts urge the Guatemalan State to comply with international and Inter-American standards and regulations in order to prevent forced evictions and internal displacement, and to ensure protection and humanitarian assistance and find durable solutions when they cannot be prevented.

In recent years, the IACHR and the UN’s experts have observed through various mechanisms how internal displacement has become worse in Guatemala as a consequence of forced evictions. During its in loco visit to the country in 2017 and during the hearing on “Allegations of human rights violations in the context of evictions in Guatemala,” the IACHR heard reports of the existence of at least 125 eviction requests in the department of Petén. In recent months, the IACHR has granted precautionary measures to evicted and displaced persons from the Laguna Larga community in September 2017 (MC 412/17) , to indigenous families from the Chaab´il Ch´och’ community in January 2018 (MC 860/17), to the “Nueva Semuy Chacchilla” Maya Q’eqchi community in February 2018 (MC 872-17) and to the “La Cumbre Sa’kuxhá” Maya Q’ueqchi community in June 2018 (MC 44/18).

In its report Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala, the IACHR presented evidence of a pattern of human rights violations when evictions are carried out, including violations of the right to consultation and a lack of prior notice. Evictions are usually carried out violently by members of the National Civilian Police, the Army and the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP). They tend to be summary procedures that give the affected persons—who get no support from the State—very little time to gather their belongings. Further, evictions usually involve the burning and destruction of homes, foodstuffs and animals, they are carried out with no dispositions for the evicted person’s return or relocation, and they offer no real chance of due process or access to justice. The IACHR also documented a discourse that criminalizes evicted persons, accusing them of collaborating with drug gangs and of committing crimes including misappropriation. As a result of those evictions, many people have been forced to engage in internal displacement.

“At the IACHR, we are deeply concerned that forced evictions have also led to the internal displacement of many people, leaving them in a serious humanitarian emergency and violating many of their human rights,” said Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva, the Commission’s Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants. “It is usually indigenous persons and peasants who are worst affected by those decisions, and they usually lack legal certainty regarding their land,” said Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, the IACHR’s Rapporteur for Guatemala.

In this context, the IACHR and the UN’s experts welcome the judgment issued on March 1, 2018 by the Constitutional Court of the Guatemalan Republic and the resolution issued by the Human Rights Prosecutor (PDH, by his Spanish acronym) on June 6, 2018. The IACHR highlights that both decisions are an important way for the authorities to exercise control over conventions, by demanding immediate compliance with the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR in the Laguna Larga case, among other relevant measures. The Commission also stresses the PDH’s recommendation that the document Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement, drafted by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, be taken into account in future evictions, to protect the right to an adequate standard of living.

The IACHR and the UN’s experts note that evictions may only be carried out in compliance with international and Inter-American standards and regulations regarding human rights and the principles of exceptionality, legality, proportionality and suitability, with the ultimate goal of promoting social welfare. During an eviction, it is crucial to abide by strict procedures, including essential procedural guarantees such as an authentic opportunity for consultation with the affected persons; reasonable and sufficient advance notice ahead of the scheduled date of eviction; legal remedies and assistance; and the design, sufficiently in advance, of a contingency plan including relocation and housing alternatives.

“The alleged facts seem to indicate a prima facie violation of any person’s right to a standard of living that is adequate for them and their family, including the right to adequate housing. The legal security of tenure is an essential element of the right to housing. All people must enjoy a certain degree of security of tenure that grants them legal protection from eviction,” said Leilani Farha, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing.

The IACHR and both UN experts urge the Guatemalan State to comply with the obligations enshrined in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, in line with efforts promoted through the recent Plan of Action for Advancing Prevention, Protection and Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons 2018-2020: (i) preventing displacement; (ii) providing protection and assistance during displacement; (iii) providing and facilitating humanitarian assistance; and (iv) facilitating return, reintegration, relocation and rehabilitation or fair compensation, in safe conditions. In specific cases of displacement that stem from forced evictions, the solution must immediately follow the eviction and, if it involves different land, that land must be of the same quality or better.

 “I urge the Guatemalan authorities to refrain from forced evictions, and to provide the necessary assistance and protection to those individuals who are currently internally displaced, in line with the State’s obligations under the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Durable solutions should swiftly be elaborated, based on the wishes of the individuals displaced, while guaranteeing their access to justice,” said Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons.

In case an eviction is justified, the IACHR and the UN’s experts stress States’ obligation to protect the dignity, the life and the safety of evicted persons, ensuring at the very least their access to a diet that is both nutritionally and culturally adequate, safe drinking water and sanitation, adequate shelter and clothing, access to medical services, means of subsistence, education and access to justice, as well as ensuring access for humanitarian assistance and independent monitoring. Further, safe access must be granted to the common resources on which they used to depend, including the chance to collect their property, utensils, crops and harvests.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence. 

Ms. Cecilia Jimenez-Damary (Philippines) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons by the Human Rights Council in September 2016. A human rights lawyer specializing in forced displacement and migration, she has more than two decades of experience in NGO human rights advocacy.

Ms Leilani Farha is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. She took up her mandate in June 2014. Ms Farha is the Executive Director of the NGO Canada without Poverty, based in Ottawa. A lawyer by training, for the past 20 years Ms Farha has worked both internationally and domestically on the implementation of the right to adequate housing for the most marginalized groups and on the situation of people living in poverty. 

No. 158/18