Guatemala: UN expert calls for action to halt discrimination against indigenous people

12 September 2002

Wrapping up a 10-day trip to Guatemala, a United Nations human rights expert has urged action to end discrimination against the country's indigenous people.

Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, yesterday called on Guatemala's Congress to approve pending legislation relating to racial and ethnic discrimination.

Delivering a speech in the country, the Special Rapporteur noted that half of Guatemala's population is made up of indigenous people, who comprise the majority in certain rural areas. Forty per cent of indigenous people live in poverty, with women disproportionately affected. About half of the indigenous people are illiterate, with that figure jumping to 90 per cent among women.

In response to this state of affairs, Mr. Stavenhagen called on Guatemala to adopt the monitoring mechanism of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. He also stressed the need to implement relevant provisions in the country's peace accords in cooperation with the UN Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA).

In a separate development, MINUGUA yesterday condemned the assassination of Manuel Garcia de la Cruz, who was working with a widows' association and had participated actively in exhumations. The Mission voiced concern that the crime recalled other extreme acts of violence that characterized the period of armed conflict in Guatemala, and urged the country's authorities to conduct an exhaustive investigation in order to ensure that those responsible did not escape justice.


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