Cultural Protections: Accord for a Firm and Lasting Peace

Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Mexico City, 31 March 1995)

III. Cultural Rights

1. Mayan culture is the original basis of Guatemalan culture and, in conjunction with the other indigenous cultures, is an active and dynamic factor in the development and progress of Guatemalan society.

2. The development of the national culture is therefore inconceivable without recognition and promotion of the culture of the indigenous peoples. Thus, in contrast with the past, educational and cultural policy must be oriented to focus on recognition, respect and encouragement of indigenous cultural values.
With such recognition of cultural differences in mind, an effort must be made to promote contributions and exchanges that can help to enrich Guatemalan society.

3. The Maya, Garifuna and Xinca peoples are the authors of their cultural development. The role of the State is to support that development by eliminating obstacles to the exercise of this right, adopting the necessary legislative and administrative measures to strengthen indigenous cultural development in all fields covered by the State and ensuring the participation of indigenous persons in decisions on the planning and execution of cultural programmes and projects through their organizations and institutions.

A. Language

1. Language is one of the mainstays of culture since, in particular, it is the vehicle for learning and passing on the indigenous view of the world, and indigenous knowledge and cultural values. Thus, all the languages spoken in Guatemala deserve equal respect. In that context provision must be made to recover and protect indigenous languages and to promote the development and use of those languages.

2. To that end, the Government shall take the following measures:

(a) Promote a constitutional reform calling for the listing of all languages existing in Guatemala which the State is constitutionally required to recognize, respect and promote;

(b) Promote the use of all indigenous languages in the educational system, to enable children to read and write in their own tongue or in the language most commonly spoken in the community to which they belong and, in particular, protect bilingual and intercultural education and institutions such as the Mayan Schools and other indigenous educational projects;

(c) Promote the use of the languages of the indigenous people when providing State social services at the community level;

(d) Inform indigenous communities, in their own languages in keeping with the traditions of the indigenous peoples and by adequate means, of their rights, obligations and opportunities in various areas of national life. Recourse shall be had, if necessary, to written translations and the use of mass communications media in the languages of those peoples;

(e) Promote programmes for the training of bilingual judges and court interpreters from and into indigenous languages;

(f) Enhance the status of indigenous languages, opening up new opportunities for them in the mass communications and cultural transmission media, strengthening such organizations as the Academy of Mayan Languages and other similar institutions; and

(g) Promote the granting of official status to indigenous languages. To that end an officialization commission will be set up with the participation of representatives of the linguistic communities and the Academy of Mayan Languages of Guatemala, which shall study arrangements for granting official status, taking account of linguistic and territorial criteria. The Government shall promote, in the Guatemalan Congress, a reform of article 143 of the Constitution to reflect the results of the officialization commission's work.

B. Names, surnames and place names

The Government reaffirms the full right to register indigenous names, surnames and place names. It also reaffirms the right of communities to change the names of places in which they reside, when a majority of members so decide. The Government shall take the measures provided for in part II, section A, of this agreement to combat any de facto discrimination in the exercise of this right.

C. Spirituality

1. Recognition is accorded to the importance and special nature of Mayan spirituality as an essential component in the Mayan vision of the world and in the transmittal of its values, as well as those of the other indigenous peoples.

2. The Government undertakes to secure respect for the exercise of this spirituality in all its manifestations, and particularly for the right to practice it, both in public and in private by means of education, worship and observance. Recognition is also given to the importance of the respect due to indigenous spiritual guides and to sacred ceremonies and holy places.

3. The Government shall promote, in the Guatemalan Congress, the reform of article 66 of the Constitution to stipulate that the State recognizes, respects and protects the various forms of spirituality practised by the Maya, Garifuna and Xinca peoples.

D. Temples, ceremonial centres and holy places

1. Recognition is accorded to the historical value and current importance of temples and ceremonial centres as part of the cultural, historical and spiritual heritage of the Maya and other indigenous peoples. Temples and ceremonial centres situated in areas protected by the State as archaeological sites

2. According to the Guatemalan Constitution, temples and ceremonial centres of archaeological value constitute part of the national cultural heritage. As such, they are the property of the State and must be protected. In that context, measures must be taken to ensure that this principle is not violated in the case of temples and ceremonial centres of archaeological value situated or found on private property.

3. The right of the Maya, Garifuna and Xinca peoples to participate in the conservation and administration of such places is recognized. To guarantee this right the Government undertakes to promote, with the participation of indigenous peoples, legal measures to ensure redefinition of State entities responsible for this function in order to make this right effective.

4. Changes shall be made in the regulations for the protection of ceremonial centres in archaeological areas to ensure that such regulations permit the practice of spirituality and cannot be made an impediment to the exercise of spiritual values. The Government shall promote, in cooperation with indigenous spiritual organizations, regulations governing access to ceremonial centres to guarantee the free practice of indigenous spirituality in conditions of respect laid down by spiritual guides.

Holy places

5. It is recognized that there are other holy places in which indigenous spirituality and, in particular, Mayan spirituality, is traditionally practiced and which need to be preserved. A commission formed of representatives of the Government and indigenous organizations and of indigenous spiritual guides shall be set up to identify these places and establish rules for their preservation.

E. Use of indigenous dress

1. The constitutional right to wear indigenous dress must be respected and guaranteed in all areas of national life. The Government shall take the measures provided for in part II, section A, of this agreement to combat any de facto discrimination regarding the use of indigenous dress.

2. Furthermore, in a campaign to make the public more aware of the different manifestations of the Mayan, Garifuna and Xinca cultures, information shall be provided on the spiritual and cultural value of indigenous dress and the need to respect it.

F. Science and technology

1. The existence and value of the scientific and technological knowledge of the Maya and other indigenous peoples are recognized. This legacy must be retrieved, developed and disseminated.

2. The Government undertakes to promote the study and dissemination of this knowledge and to help put it to practical use. Universities, academic centres, the communications media, non-governmental organizations and international cooperation agencies are urged to validate and publicize the scientific and technical contributions of indigenous peoples.

3. Furthermore, the Government shall facilitate access by indigenous peoples to contemporary knowledge and shall promote scientific and technical exchanges.

Agreement on Constitutional Reforms and the Electoral Regime (Stockholm, 7 December 1996)

I. Constitutional Reforms: A. Constitutional reforms contained in the Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples

4. This Agreement provides for constitutional recognition of the identity of the Maya, Garifuna and Xinca peoples and, from that standpoint, of the need to define and characterize the Guatemalan State as being one of national unity and multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual in nature. It is not just a matter of recognizing the existence and identity of various ethnic groups, as article 66 of the Constitution currently does, but of recognizing that the very make-up of society, without prejudice to the unity of the nation and the State, is characterized in that way; this also entails recognizing the specific nature of indigenous people's spirituality as an essential component of their world view and of the transmission of their values, and granting official constitutional recognition to indigenous languages as one of the mainstays of national culture and as a vehicle for acquiring and transmitting indigenous people's world view, knowledge and cultural values.

Identity of the Maya, Garifuna and Xinca peoples

5. Sponsor in the Congress of the Republic express constitutional recognition of the identity of the Maya, Garifuna and Xinca peoples, within the unity of the Guatemalan nation.

List of the languages existing in the country

6. Sponsor in the Congress of the Republic an amendment to the Constitution incorporating in its article 143 a list of all languages existing in the Republic, which the Government is required to recognize, respect and promote.

Official recognition of indigenous languages

7. Sponsor in the Congress of the Republic, in accordance with the conclusions of the Official Recognition Commission established under the Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the necessary constitutional amendments arising out of the Commission's work.

Spirituality of the Maya, Garifuna and Xinca peoples

8. Sponsor in the Congress of the Republic the amendment of article 66 of the Constitution to stipulate that the State recognizes, respects and protects the various forms of spirituality practised by the Maya, Garifuna and Xinca peoples.

Definition and characterization of the Guatemalan nation

9. Sponsor in the Congress of the Republic an amendment to article 140 of the Constitution to define and characterize the Guatemalan nation as being one of national unity and multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual in nature.

Implementation History

1997

Minimum Implementation

The Government established a Commission to define indigenous groups' sacred places in April 1997.1

  • 1. “The Indigenous Peoples of Guatemala: Overcoming Discrimination in the Framework of the Peace Agreements, Verification Report," United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), September 2001.
1998

Minimum Implementation

In August 1998, the Commission to define indigenous groups' sacred places reached an impasse and dissolved. After a long process of negotiation, the Commission was re-established.2

1999

Minimum Implementation

The referendum for the full package of constitutional amendments occurred on 16 May 1999. With low turnout, voters denied the proposed amendments related to the redefinition of the nation and the formal recognition of indigenous peoples—including cultural protections—along with all other proposed amendments. While this vote prevented the complete fulfillment of many components of the peace agreements, the parties to the agreements for their part showed good faith by drafting, submitting and approving the reforms. As provisions for improved rights and protections for indigenous peoples were featured prominently in the referendum, this outcome indicated that the country was far from reconciled after the formal end of the civil war.3

  • 3. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/54/526), November 11, 1999.
2000

Minimum Implementation

When the Commission for the Follow-up of the Peace Agreements agreed to move the final deadline for compliance from 2000 to 2004, it confirmed that most of the stipulations related to cultural protections for indigenous peoples were still pending. One important concern was the ongoing social marginalization of indigenous communities, which kept them from becoming more involved in the political, justice and education systems.4

  • 4. “The Indigenous Peoples of Guatemala: Overcoming Discrimination in the Framework of the Peace Agreements, Verification Report," United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), September 2001.
2001

Minimum Implementation

By September 2001, only the Ministry of Education had recognized the right of indigenous persons to wear their traditional attire. However, the Ministry of Education had so far failed to implement comprehensive intercultural and bilingual education programs or improve indigenous communities' access to education at the levels stipulated by the agreements.5

2002

Minimum Implementation

The extended timetable for the implementation of the Agreements was yet unfulfilled. The Government made no effective moves to correct ongoing violations of the cultural rights of indigenous peoples.6

  • 6. “Thirteenth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/57/336), August 22, 2002.
2003

Intermediate Implementation

The Ministry of Education passed Ministerial Agreement No. 930-2003 to respect indigenous dress in official and private establishments.7

  • 7. “Information Received from Governments: Guatemala,” Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, United Nations Economic and Social Council (E/C.19/2010/12/Add.8), March 3, 2010.
2004

Intermediate Implementation

Ministerial Agreement No. 294-2004 made the drama Rabinal Achi' part of the cultural heritage of the nation.8

2005

Intermediate Implementation

No developments observed this year.

2006

Intermediate Implementation

Indigenous persons continued to be discriminated against in society. Traditional dress was still not accepted widely.9 As such, implementing cultural protection provisions of the accord is still a problem.

  • 9. “Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala,” United Nations Economic and Social Council (E/CN.4/2006/10/Add.1), February 1, 2006.