Indigenous community radio operators win lawsuit against Guatemalan stateGlobal Voices

Photo by Ixchel Estéreo radios, used with permission.

This article was published by Prensa Comunitaria and has been edited and republished by Global Voices with permission.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) announced on December 17 that it had find the state of Guatemala responsible for violating the rights to freedom of expression, equality before the law and participation in the cultural life of several indigenous Mayan peoples by preventing them from operating their community radio stations.

The indigenous groups affected were the Kaqchikel peoples of Sumpango, the Achi peoples of San Miguel Chicaj and the Mam peoples of Cajolá and Todos Santos Cuchumatán. The court, which is the independent judicial body of the Organization of American States (OAS), also ordered reparations for affected communities.

In its decision, based on a Case originally filed in 2012 by local Guatemalan organizations supported by the Human and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Clinic at Suffolk University Law School, the court found that the country’s regulatory system in broadcasting results in a de facto, almost absolute ban on the right of indigenous peoples to freedom of speech and, at the same time, prevents them from exercising their right to participate in cultural life.

According to a declaration of the Court, at least 43.6% of Guatemala’s population is indigenous and about 80% of the indigenous population live below the poverty line.

Ixchel Estéreo, one of the petitioners, wrote on his Facebook page that this decision will be a “turning point for community radio stations in Guatemala”.

According to the court’s statement, “there are 424 radio stations in the country on FM frequency and 90 stations on AM frequency. However, only one of them is an Aboriginal community station. In addition, there are many community radio stations operated by indigenous peoples which are unable to obtain a state license. The Ixchel station in Sumpango and the Voz del Pueblo station in San Miguel Chicaj, in particular, were raided and two of their volunteers were prosecuted.

In Latin America, community radios are non-profit radios that aim to foster the development of a local community. They are operated by people from the community and are mostly found in rural areas. They to supply information, education, entertainment services and advocating for community rights against potential state violations.

In Guatemala, as in other parts of Latin America, human rights defenders have sentenced the persecution of community broadcasters and their historic exclusion from the radio spectrum.

the Ixchel and the Uqul Tinamit la Voz del Pueblo radio stations, in the towns of Sumpango and San Miguel Chicaj in the Baja Verapaz department of Guatemala, were raided by the authorities under orders issued in criminal proceedings in 2006 and 2012, respectively. Their broadcasting equipment was seized and some of their operators were prosecuted.

The Court ruled that these raids and seizures of equipment from Ixchel and Voz del Pueblo radios were illegal and restricted their freedom of expression, which goes against the American Convention. The Court therefore concluded that Guatemala was responsible for the violation of this right.

The Court ordered several remedies to compensate for these violations. These included: adopting the necessary measures so that indigenous communities identified as victims can freely operate their community radios; adapt internal regulations which recognize community radio stations as distinct forms of media; and regulate their operations by establishing a simple procedure for obtaining licenses.

In addition, the decision states that the state should reserve part of the radio spectrum for indigenous community radio stations, refrain from prosecuting their operators, raiding radio stations and confiscating broadcasting material, and canceling convictions against individuals from indigenous communities who have been convicted. to use radio stations.

In the decision, the judges recognized that in addition to enabling indigenous communities to participate fully in public life, these radio stations are essential for the conservation, transmission and continued development of these cultures and languages.

“Community radios are a means for indigenous peoples to exercise their right to freedom of expression. Having access to their own stations is essential to promote the identity, language, culture, self-representation and collective rights of indigenous peoples, ”the court statement said.

For this reason, the member countries of the OAS are obliged to adopt the necessary measures to allow indigenous communities to access the radio spectrum of community radios.

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