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Guatemala Accepts Two Recommendations Regarding Indigenous Community Radio at Human Rights Council Adoption of Universal Periodic Review Outcome 

By Natalia Jones (CS Staff)

On July 7, 2023, the final outcome of Guatemala’s human rights review was adopted during the 53rd Human Rights Council session. For the adoption of the final report, the government of Guatemala needed to either accept or note (reject) the recommendations that were made during the 42nd Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which took place in January.

In a historic move, Guatemala accepted both recommendations that Cultural Survival and our partner organization Sobrevivencia Cultural put forth regarding Indigenous Peoples’ right to community radio and will consequently have the international obligation to implement them.

During this review process, Guatemala received several recommendations on the improvement of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, including topics such as bilingual and intercultural education, prevention from forced evictions from their territories, and implementation of Free, Prior and Informed Consent mechanisms. Cultural Survival, together with partners, specifically advocated for recommendations on the urgent need to implement the 2021 Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling by taking effective measures to reserve part of the radio spectrum for Indigenous community radio stations.

In Guatemala, Indigenous community radio stations still have not been legalized more than 26 years since this right was guaranteed in the 1996 Guatemalan Peace Accords. Moreover, almost two years ago the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of the Maya community petitioners in October 2021 in the case of Indigenous Maya Kaqchikel Peoples of Sumpango and others vs. Guatemala.

The court’s ruling declared the Republic of Guatemala “internationally responsible for the violation of the rights to freedom of expression, equality before the law, and participation in cultural life,” and established that Guatemala must create a simple and free procedure to obtain radio licenses for Indigenous communities and reserve part of the radio spectrum for Indigenous community radio stations. However, Guatemala has refused to comply with or implement any of these obligations and continues to criminalize Indigenous radio operators.

During the review in January, Colombia and Norway paid attention to Cultural Survival's and our Indigenous partners' concerns and echoed the specific recommendations we put forth. Colombia urged the State of Guatemala to “consider the implementation and application of the Inter-American Court ruling ordering Guatemala to recognize Indigenous community radio stations as distinguished media and to adopt the necessary measures to establish a simple and free procedure for obtaining licenses, as well as reserving part of the radio spectrum for Indigenous community radio and ceasing the criminalization of Indigenous radio operators.” 

Norway also recommended that Guatemala take concrete actions to guarantee the right of Indigenous Peoples to prior consultation in accordance with ILO Convention 169 and that it comply with the reparation measures ordered by the Inter-American Court.

On July 7, 2023, Guatemala accepted both recommendations regarding Indigenous community radio. This will not be the end of the struggle for Indigenous community radio in Guatemala, as the State has shown little interest in implementing these measures in the past. Yet the fact that Guatemala pledged at the international level to comply with these recommendations is a positive step forward and offers another tool for Indigenous Peoples to advocate for their rights to freedom of expression and their own media at the national level.