Agua Caliente Lote 9 Case

Worldwide, indigenous peoples are facing serious violations to their human and environmental rights due to the imposition of extractive industry projects on their land. The Center is advising the Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ Agua Caliente Lote 9 community as they seek protection for their land and natural resources rights before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  

In 2006, the Guatemala government issued a mining permit to the nickel company CGN (Compañia Guatemalteca de Níquel), in complete disregard of Agua Caliente’s forty yearlong efforts to formalize their land titles and in flagrant defiance to domestic and international law. By failing to title the communities’ lands and granting the permit without previous consultation with the affected communities, including Agua Caliente, Guatemala violated their rights to property, self-government, due process of law and judicial protection.

The blatant violation of their rights led Agua Caliente leaders to open a case before Guatemalan courts, a case they won in 2011. The Constitutional Court, the highest court on constitutional matters, made a precedent-setting decision recognizing Agua Caliente’s land ownership and ordering Guatemala’s executive branch to take all corrective actions necessary to properly title Agua Caliente’s lands. Agua Caliente has the largest nickel deposits on its lands; mining interests in its territory have led to acts of intimidation, life-threats, and violence, including murder. Due to lack of compliance with this decision, the Center has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against Guatemala in mid-2011.

The system of surveying, titling and registering indigenous lands in Guatemala is ineffective. Land survey is highly manipulated against indigenous peoples. Long after its completion, the Guatemala’s cadastral agency RIC (Registro de Informacion Catastral) neglected to share the results of a World Bank-funded land administration project that surveyed the lands of about seventeen Maya Q’eqchi’ communities in El Estor, including the Agua Caliente’s lands. Land titling procedures do not function in a timely manner. Agua Caliente has been subject to Guatemalan FONTIERRAS’ (Fondo Nacional de Tierras) land titling procedure for more than forty years without obtaining due title. Record-keeping systems are vulnerable to irregularities and manipulations leading to land frauds. Records about Agua Caliente’ lands have been removed to prevent titling.

The Agua Caliente case is emblematic because it challenges governments’ practice of not ensuring legal security over indigenous lands to pave the way for extractive industry projects on said lands. It addresses the ineffectiveness of Guatemala’s system of surveying, titling and registering indigenous lands. It also questions Guatemala’s lack of legislation recognizing indigenous peoples’ full collective ownership of the lands and resources under their traditional possession.

The Center will continue to represent Agua Caliente in this international proceeding to secure strong measures to protect Maya Q’eqchi’ land rights, their environment and the life of the communities’ traditional leaders.