Press Release

IACHR Condemns Attack against Maya Q’eqchi’ Children in Guatemala

August 24, 2013

Cobán  Alta Verapaz, Guatemala – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses deep concern for the health situation of two indigenous children who received gunshots on August 23, 2013, in the community of Monte Olivo, on the Dolores River, of the Maya Q’eqchi’ People, in Coban, Department of Alta Verapaz. These events took place the same day that the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Dinah Shelton, was conducting a on-site visit in Cobán, Guatemala.

According to the information received by the Rapporteur and her team, two indigenous children, ages 9 and 13, received gunshots when they were playing with marbles at school. The information provided to the delegation by members of the community indicates that the suppousst perpetrator was allegedly identified as an employee of the Santa Rita hydroelectric plant, to which the community is opposed.

Members of the Rapporteur’s delegation visited the Regional Hospital of Cobán, where the doctors informed them that the 9-year-old child is in serious condition, with entry and exit holes in the skull caused by a high caliber gunshot. In addition, they stated that the 13-year-old child has two gunshots, one of which impacted his traquea. Members of the community provided information that before going to the school, the alleged perpetrator of the attacks allegedly went to the house of a person in the community known for his opposition to the hydroelectrical plant, but this person was in Cobán for the meeting with the Rapporteur. The information received by the delegation is that it took between an hour and an hour and a half for an ambulance to arrive to the community. Also, the doctors informed the delegation that the 9-year-old child needs urgent transportation to Guatemala City, but the hospital’s only ambulance was broken down, and the authorites of the health care center faced serious difficulties to solve the situation.

The IACHR urges the State of Guatemala to guarantee that the Regional Hospital of Cobán has all the human and material resources necessary to ensure integral and culturally-appropriate medical attention to the two children. In addition, the Commission urges the State to take urgent action so that the hospital may receive ambulances to address situations such as this and other emergencies in the future.

The Inter-American Commission understands that the lack of confidence of this indigenous community in the State’s security forces is related to a longstanding high level of impunity. The Commission calls on the Guatemalan authorities to work in agreement with the community of Monte Olivo in order to establish effective mechanisms to guarantee that the material and intellectual authors face justice, safeguarding at all times the rights and integrity of the community and its members.

In addition, the circumstances and timing of this attack raise concerns that there may be elements within society seeking to intimidate or retaliate against members of indigenous communities who speak to the Commission’s Rapporteurship during its visit to Guatemala.

“It is deeply worrying that a tragedy like this took place during the visit, with our presence in the area. We will be closely monitoring the actions to be adopted with great attention,” said Rapporteur Shelton.

The IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Dinah Shelton, heads a delegation that visits Guatemala from August 21 to 30, in order to gather information about the human rights situation of indigenous peoples, with special focus on their lands, territories, and natural resources, and the right to prior, free and informed consultation.

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 human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. 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.

No. 61/13