On December 17, 2021, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that Guatemala was “internationally responsible for the violation of the rights to freedom of expression, equality before the law, and participation in cultural life” of Indigenous Peoples. On December 28, Channel partner Cultural Survival held a press conference to clarify the importance of this ruling, along with Guatemala-based Asociación Sobrevivencia Cultural, Suffolk University Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples Clinic, and Asociación de Abogados Mayas.
At this press conference, representatives of the four affected Indigenous communities and the lawyers who represented them spoke both about winning this case and the example it sets for other Indigenous communities and governments. “This is a ruling that other Indigenous communities can use to advocate for their rights internally and try to get their governments to follow these recommendations from the Court,” said Amy Van Zyl-Chavarro, Co-Counsel from the Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples Clinic at Suffolk University.
In its ruling, the IACHR specifically found the State of Guatemala to be in violation of Indigenous Peoples’ right to freedom of expression through the General Telecommunications Law, which denied these peoples access to radio frequencies. As a result, the Court ordered that the four affected Indigenous community radio stations must be recognized by the Guatemalan government and financially compensated. Decisions made by this Court are binding, which means that the State of Guatemala must comply with these orders.
This IACHR decision is vitally important as Indigenous community radio broadcasters in the region have often historically suffered threats, harassment and violence or had their stations, technology and tools and/or broadcast licenses seized by state and non-state actors.