Guatemala Ratifies Convention Guaranteeing Indigenous Rights

ILO/96/20

Press release | 13 June 1996

ILO/96/20

GENEVA (ILO News) - The Minister of Labour of Guatemala today formally received notice of ILO's acceptance of Guatemala's decision to ratify the ILO Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (No. 169, 1989). The ratification formalises a commitment to guarantee the rights of the country's majority Mayan population.

The Convention obliges ratifying governments to respect the traditional values of tribal and indigenous peoples and to consult with them on decisions affecting their economic or social development. It also requires governments to respect the land rights of tribal and indigenous peoples.

Ratification of the Convention is a key element in an eight-part, UN-sponsored negotiation that is seeking to put an end to civil war in Guatemala, the longest running civil conflict in Latin America, which has cost nearly a quarter of a million lives during the past three decades.

Mr. Arnoldo Ortiz Moscoso, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of Guatemala said this was an "historic milestone in Guatemala's consolidation of democracy and fullest respect for internationally recognised human rights." He called on the international community to help his Government ensure the "full participation of all sectors of society, men and women, workers and employers, in the building of a new, democratic culture of tolerance peace and economic development."

ILO's regional director for Central America, Mr. Ian Chambers, praised the ratification as a major step forward for the peace process: "This international commitment constitutes a formal undertaking to develop the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic nature and character of Guatamelan society already recognised by the country's constitution." Mr. Chambers, who also serves as legal adviser to the peace process, added that "no lasting peace can be guaranteed if such diversity is not recognised and protected, in Guatemala and throughout the world."

As part of the overall peace process, a specific accord based on the ILO Convention was signed in March 1995 in order to recognise and protect indigenous rights and cultural identity. Today's ratification strengthens the terms of this process, which seeks to provide a series of mechanisms to ensure dialogue between all organised civil society and government, corresponding to the ILO's view, since 1919, that equitable development can only be achieved through positive interaction between both governmental and non-governmental actors. Guatemala's acceptance of the terms of the Convention will be subject to ILO's verification procedures, notably those of a committee of independent international legal experts and of the tripartite Committee on the Application of Labour Standards. The ILO and the United Nations are currently engaged in discussions to ensure that their respective verification procedures in Guatemala are mutually reinforcing.

There remain two outstanding issues in the peace negotiations, the role of the army in civil society and constitutional reform. In May 1996, with ILO assistance, parties to the negotiation reached an accord on a series of socio-economic issues. Under the terms of the socio-economic agreement, Guatemala will increase social investment, notably in education, undertake agrarian reform and institute tripartite consultation on major economic and social issues, particularly within the framework of local development. While the final global peace accord is expected to be signed in mid-September of this year, the ILO and the UN are already working together, along with other bodies of the UN system, in mobilising international support for the complex effort of transforming these agreements into political and social realities for the people of Guatemala.