Press Release

IACHR Concludes Working Visit to Guatemala

September 26, 2016

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) carried out a working visit to Guatemala September 1-3, 2016. The delegation visited the capital city and communities in the departments of Chimaltenango and Sololá.

The purpose of the visit was to gather information for the first thematic IACHR report on human rights and poverty and the Americas. This is the fifth in a series of IACHR visits to countries in the region for this same purpose. The Inter-American Commission thanks the State of Guatemala for its openness and the full cooperation in carrying out the visit. The Commission especially thanks the Presidential Human Rights Commission (COPREDEH) and the various government authorities. It also thanks the Hunger Free Guatemala Campaign for its collaboration in coordinating meetings with civil society organizations, as well as the Office of the Secretariat General of the OAS in Guatemala for its valuable support in coordinating activities during the visit. Recognition is also due to the United Nations agencies that provided information and REDSAG, Action Aid, ACONAPAMG, Institute for Overcoming Urban Poverty (ISMUGUA), Vivamos Mejor (Live Better), Technology for Health, Women’s Association of the San Carlos Settlement, Aj Mayon, Asecsa, and Fourth World Movement Guatemala for facilitating the visits to hinterland communities and meetings with representatives of makeshift urban settlements. Lastly, the IACHR thanks the European Union for its financial contribution, which made the visit possible.

The visit was conducted by Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi, in his capacity as the head of the Unit on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The Commissioner was accompanied by two human rights specialists from the IACHR Executive Secretariat.

The delegation held meetings in Guatemala City with state authorities at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters, where it met with Vice Minister Alicia Virginia Castillo Sosa, the President of COPREDEH, Victor Hugo Godoy Morales, and other ministerial authorities. The purpose of the meeting was the gather information on poverty and extreme poverty in Guatemala. Also in attendance were representatives from the Ministry of Social Development, Education, Public Health and Social Assistance, Culture and Sports, Economy, Environment and Natural Resources, Finance, Labor and Social Security, Agriculture and Livestock, and Food. Meetings were also held with representatives from the National Dialogue Commission, Secretariat of Food and Nutrition Safety, Housing Fund, Office of the Ombudsperson for Indigenous Women, Secretariat of Planning and Programming for the Office of the President (SEGEPLAN), National Literacy Committee, Committee against Discrimination and Racism, Presidential Secretariat for Women, and the Guatemalan Indigenous Development Fund. The IACHR also met with Guatemalan Supreme Court Justices Delia Dávila Salazar and Mauricio Vasquez Pimentel.

The IACHR also met with officials from the Guatemalan Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, who provided general information. They highlighted, among other things, the challenges in implementing appropriate public policies based on the latest census performed in 2002, as well as natural factors that were exacerbating the situation, like the situation of the population that lives in the “dry corridor,” which is severely impacted by drought. They indicated the need for innovative development programs that are not just welfare-based.

The State provided the IACHR with information on a series of programs targeting the people, groups, and communities living in poverty and extreme poverty in Guatemala, as well as the implementation of public policy initiatives using a gender-based perspective to reduce poverty. The State pointed to some of the current challenges relating to the ESCR in the country and the actions taken since the beginning of the new administration in 2016. It was noted that around 59% of the population lives in poverty; that 43.4% is affected by chronic malnutrition (with a higher concentration in some areas); that lack of access to healthcare in rural areas creates a significant gap among the population; and that there are a series of cultural and education-related challenges, particularly due to restricted access to the public university. In terms of public policies, special mention was made of the literacy program developed by the Literacy Committee; efforts to bolster the school food system; food baskets for families living in extreme poverty; and the programs implemented by the Ministry of Social Development aiming to substantially lower malnutrition and poverty. A 20-year Development Plan was adopted in 2014 to address the inequalities faced by different groups throughout the country; this plan falls in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The State also referred to actions taken to strengthen tax-collection mechanisms and budget processes, as well as the National Dialogue Commission’s mechanism and special policies for women living in poverty. The Supreme Court justices reported on a series of decisions that impacted the ESCR situation, such as the suspension of extractive undertakings until the prior consultation processes were completed.

A meeting was also held with civil society, academia, church and union representatives, such as the Hunger Free Guatemala Campaign, Madre Selva Collective, National Council of the Displaced in Guatemala (CONDEG), National Coordinator of Peasant Organizations (CNOC), Peasant Development Committee (CODECA), National Coordinating Association of Settlers of Marginalized Areas in Guatemala (ACONAGAPAMG), Pastoral Ministry of San Marcos (Pastoral de la Tierra de San Marcos ), Guillermo Toriello Foundation, NGO and Cooperative Coordinator (CONGCOOP), New Day Chortí Association, Guatemalan Environmental and Social Legal Action Center(CALAS), National Coordinator for Widows in Guatemala (CONAVIGUA), Independent Worker’s Union for Domestic Work, Related Work, and Self-employed(SITRADOMSA), Center for Farm Workers(CTC), Agrarian Platform, Heifer Guatemala, National Network for the Defense of Food Sovereignty in Guatemala (REDSAG), Rural Studies Collective (CER IXIM), Highlands Peasant Committee (CCDA), Fourth World Movement Guatemala, Action Aid International (Guatemala), Tierra Nuestra Foundation (FUNDATIERRA), Latin American Social Sciences Institute (FLACSO), Institute for Overcoming Urban Poverty (ISMUGUA),  Association for Advancing Social Sciences in Guatemala (AVANCSO), and the Center for Labor Union Training Foundation in Guatemala “Mario Lopez Larrave.”

The delegation took note of the statements by made civil society representatives regarding the structural challenges to reducing poverty and extreme poverty in Guatemala and that conditions still need to be created to guarantee real equality. It bears noting the concern expressed due to the high levels of poverty in the country, as well as the chronic childhood malnutrition, which has led to a situation in which the growth of children living in poverty in both rural and urban areas falls short of WHO international standards. Reference was also made to the lack of access to jobs and the high rates of informal employment. The informal sector is characterized by wages falling below the statutory minimum wage established for accessing the basic food basket, with an outsized impact on the agricultural sector. Mention was also made of the shortage of medicine and medical personnel in public healthcare centers, increased migration, growth in makeshift urban settlements due to a lack of access to housing, child labor, and increased social inequality. They indicated the need to eradicate tax evasion, especially among the social demographics with greater economic resources, and to fight corruption. The representatives also noted that poverty and extreme poverty have a disproportionate impact on indigenous and rural populations, which are “the most excluded” segment of the population. The information also points to the serious problems of access to potable water in rural areas due to drought, river diversion, and businesses monopolizing water resources, in addition to land grabbing and pollution by companies and large development projects. They also referred to the effects of the use of agrochemicals on corn plantations and the criminalization of farmers and human rights defenders.

A meeting was also held with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala (UNHCR), with the participation of officials from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), World Food Program, UNAIDS, UNICEF, United Nations Volunteers (UNV), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and UNWOMEN. A World Bank representative was also present.

The IACHR appreciates the input provided by State and civil society representatives and reaffirms its willingness to establish channels for constructive dialogue among actors to further progress in fully guaranteeing economic, social, and cultural rights in Guatemala.

The delegation also participated in activities outside the capital, notably, visiting the Settlement of San Carlos, in the municipality of Tecpan, Department of Chimaltenango, where it heard the testimony of several residents. The IACHR learned that, among the challenges affecting the members of this community, an average of 15 of the 60 children suffered from chronic malnutrition and 16% of the population lived in extreme poverty. They indicated that workers were employed in the informal sector and underpaid. Moreover, they were indebted to the fertilizer and seed company, especially this year when the crop could not be sold. They also referred to the challenges in exercising their right to food, healthcare (due to the shortage of medicine and medical care), and education, as very few children finished primary school.

The delegation also traveled to the Chajuab community in the municipality of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan in the Department of Sololá. According to the information received, this community is comprised of 64 families, of which 44.7% live in extreme poverty. This situation especially impacts children, adolescents, and women. The IACHR learned that this community had been resettled and that deplorable weather conditions hampered farming. They also lacked access to potable water, educational infrastructure was deficient, and they lived in squalid conditions. More specifically, the delegation received information that the area school does not provide school children with food; that it is very difficult to exercise the right to food, particularly proteins (“eating beans is a luxury”); that there are not enough teachers or school supplies; that illiteracy rates are very high; and that the healthcare center is more than a 20-minute walk away. They indicated that governmental social programs do not make their way to the area and that access to the community is very limited due to deplorable road conditions.

The delegation also met with leaders and representatives from several makeshift settlements in Guatemala City and Escuintla. They reported on the lack and inadequacy of sewage drainage and its resulting pollution; the lack of access to the labor market; violent evictions due to illegal occupancy of the land; lack of recreation areas, which has impeded continuity of social programs; the significant housing shortage; that the labor market discriminates against workers coming from makeshift urban settlements (so-called “red zones”); that access to secondary and university education is very restricted; and that gang violence has escalated in the settlements. They also stated that there is evidence of childhood malnutrition, that healthcare centers lack medicine, that schools are not properly staffed with teachers, and that the provision of food at schools was discontinued this year. They indicated that the country’s sole public university requires an entrance exam that, due to the quality of education received in these urban settlements, makes it virtually impossible for settlement residents to gain access. As such, they requested human rights-focused public policies to create opportunities and provide education for youth and, thus, reverse the cycle of poverty and violence.

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 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.

No. 136/16