Guatemala’s new government must halt the use of forced evictions to resolve land disputes, Amnesty International said, after tens of thousands of demonstrators took part in a nine-day protest march to the country’s capital, Guatemala City.
The 215km march was organized to mark the first anniversary of the forced eviction of 12 Indigenous communities in Valle de Polochic, Alta Verapaz, in the north of the country. It started in the city of Cobán, in the department of Alta Verapaz in central Guatemala, on 19 March.
Evicted families, campesino activists and Indigenous rights organizations all took part, with more and more people joining the trek south each day.
The march, part of a campaign for a solution to the country's ongoing problem of land disputes and forced evictions, ended at the Plaza de la Constitution in Guatemala City on Tuesday.
"Indigenous peoples in rural parts of Guatemala are particularly vulnerable in the context of land disputes and subsequent forced evictions ," said Sebastian Elgueta of Amnesty International.
The evictions, which are carried out by the police and the army, often happen with very little warning and regularly fail to meet international standards. The security forces often burn down families’ homes and possessions during forced evictions, leaving families with only the clothes they are wearing.
"The new government of Otto Perez Molina must show that it is serious about tackling this huge problem. The guidelines for prosecutors on forced evictions, issued by the Attorney General in 2011, must be implemented in order to comply with national and international human rights law.
The government should also establish a moratorium on forced evictions and reform the law to prioritise the rights of the most vulnerable in a land dispute”
Disputes over land in Guatemala are common and often arise between Indigenous rural communities and large landowners. The country's legal system often prioritises the interests of the large landowners and sides with them over the human rights of rural workers.
As a result, hundreds of families are affected by forced evictions every year, totalling thousands of people left homeless and without recourse to adequate shelter. In January 2012 the Representative of the UN High Commission for Human Rights in Guatemala noted that from 2008-2012 114 forced evictions had been registered.
In March 2011, around 2,500 Indigenous People from the Valle del Polochic, Alta Verapaz were evicted in the context of a dispute over land ownership with a local company. A community member, Antonio Beb Ac, was killed and two others were injured during the eviction.
In the following months, two more community members were killed and a further six were injured. In August the state refused to fully implement the request from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to provide protection and humanitarian aid to the communities.
In 2011 Amnesty International campaigned on the case demanding access to adequate shelter, clean water, food and health care for those who were evicted.