Guatemala: the ICJ urges the Government to protect the rights of indigenous people against COVID-19

Millions of indigenous people in Guatemala (Mayas, Garífunas and Xincas) are at increased risk of falling victim to COVID-19 unless the government immediately provides them with necessary information and ensures they have access to adequate health care without discrimination, the ICJ said today.

“Guatemala’s indigenous people face an increased risk of suffering during this global pandemic because of the historic and systemic discrimination against them, which means that they don’t have access to proper information needed to protect themselves, nor to health care should they fall ill because of COVID-19,” said Ramón Cadena, ICJ’s Central America Director.

“The most suffering indigenous communities could be those very poor indigenous communities living at the border with México.” 

The ICJ called on Guatemalan authorities to ensure that information about public health measures regarding COVID-19 be offered in the languages most used by indigenous communities ​​(mayan languages such as ixil, quiché, mam, q´eqchí, kaqchikel; and garífuna and xinca languages).

During the pandemic the State of Guatemala has not taken into account the difficulties, such as financial, geographical, technological or linguistic barriers, that indigenous people face in accessing information.

On the other side, the ICJ has noticed that the information about the governmental measures to face the pandemic, has been disseminated in a very  limited way.

Indigenous communities have been excluded from the official health system because of the discrimination against them and the lack of resources invested in the health system of Guatemala due to processes of privatization of social services, which have been implemented in Guatemala after the signature of the Peace Accords.

“The general weakness of the Guatemalan public health system, historic racism against the indigenous community and the tremendous general social inequality in the country all aggravate the potential impact of the pandemic on the indigenous community,” Cadena said.   

The ICJ urges the State of Guatemala to take the necessary legislative, administrative, and judicial measures to protect Indigenous Peoples and preserve their human rights during the current emergency, specifically their right to health, food, and housing.

The ICJ also called on the Guatemalan government to avoid measures that threaten the life and dignity of people, including those from the indigenous community who are generally most subject to violations of their civil and political rights.

“Any measures taken in response to the pandemic must be limited to those that are strictly necessary, legitimate, and proportionate to the risk facing the community, and limited in time and subject to review,” Cadena said.

“There are certain guarantees, such as the right to an effective judicial remedy, that cannot be suspended or repealed and that are vital so that citizens, including indigenous people, can safeguard their rights, and even as the pandemic inevitably affects the legal system the government must do all it can to avoid discrimination against the indigenous community, which already suffers from racism and lack of access to justice.”

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