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Guatemala Mayans still 'wronged'

BBC News,
Thursday 12 September 2002, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK

The United Nations representative for Indian peoples has accused Guatemalan authorities of continuing to marginalise the country's sizeable Mayan population.

At the end of an 11-day tour, Rodolfo Stavenhagen said 60% of Guatemala's Mayans had been marginalised by political and structural discrimination and violence.

Left-wing Mayan guerrillas waged a 36-year-long civil war in which about 200,000 people were killed in what the UN has described as genocide.

Mr Stavenhagen said many had still to recover from the war which ended in 1996.

Indians constitute about 60% of Guatemala's population.


The envoy said institutional discrimination wasn't in Guatemala's laws but in its practices.

Mr Stavenhagen said racism in Guatemala was commonplace in the attitudes of the authorities, the common prejudices associated with their traditional clothing and other aspects of their culture and in the hostility and verbal abuse.

He said a pressing problem for Guatemala's Indians was a lack of access to the country's judicial and financial systems.

He said Indians were still denied loans that would help them buy more fertile farmland and are often discriminated against by leaders in charge of distributing government farm aid.

Access to land is the fundamental theme affecting the rights of Indian populations... and if these problems are allowed to continue as they have been, with no one working toward solutions, the possibility of social conflicts will increase, the envoy warned.

So far, only a couple of cases have gone to courts against Guatemalan generals accused of war crimes.

One centred on the role of three soldiers and a priest who were given lengthy prison terms for their roles in the assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi. Bishop Gerardi was bludgeoned to death in April 1998, just two days after he produced a report that blamed the army for many of the assassinations during the civil war.

In a landmark ruling in June 2001, a Guatemalan court said two former presidents were to face investigation on charges of genocide.

Romeo Lucas Garcia and Efrain Rios Montt - who ruled the country during the civil war - are accused of ordering massacres of Mayan Indians between 1978 and 1983.