International court rules against Guatemala in landmark indigenous and environmental rights case

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Guatemala violated the rights of indigenous peoples nearly two decades ago by allowing the construction of a huge nickel mine on tribal land, according to a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Friday.

The landmark ruling marks a monumental step in a 40-year struggle for indigenous land rights and a long and bitter legal battle that at times spilled into the streets of northern Guatemala.

It also coincided with the conclusion of the United Nations Climate Summit COP28, underscoring the importance of renewable energy and energy transition minerals like nickel more than ever.

The Guatemalan government violated the indigenous Q’ech’i people’s right to property and consultation by allowing mining on land where they have lived at least since then, according to a ruling read from Costa Rica in the early morning. 1800s.

Guatemala had six months to begin the process of granting land titles to communities and was ordered to establish a development fund.

Guatemala’s Environment Agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

“This is the most important development in 100 years for a country that does not have laws recognizing indigenous land rights,” said Leonardo, a lawyer with the Indian Legal Resource Center, which has been conducting research and representing local communities since 2005. Crippa said.

Guatemala awarded its first major exploration permit to Canadian company Hudbay for its Phoenix mine in eastern Guatemala less than 20 years ago. In 2009, a mine security officer shot and killed a community leader. Hudbay sold the site two years later to a local subsidiary of Switzerland-based Solway Investment Group.

After more than a decade of domestic and now international litigation, documents leaked in 2022 show that mining company staff bribed some local residents to testify in the mine’s favor in court. This appears to indicate that they were trying to divide the community.

In response, the U.S. Treasury Department in November 2022 imposed sanctions on two Solway officials involved in the accusations. The summary of the judgment read in court Friday did not mention the bribery charges.

Solway did not immediately comment on the ruling, but a company spokeswoman said it was preparing a statement.

The Phoenix mine is unlikely to be the last conflict between an international mine that provides clean energy minerals and indigenous communities. A study published last year calculated that more than half of existing and planned significant mineral mines are located on or near indigenous lands.

In his remarks at COP28, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned of the possibility of just this conflict as demand for minerals like nickel increases.

“From wind farms to solar panels to battery manufacturing, the extraction of minerals essential to the clean energy revolution must be done in a sustainable, fair and just way,” Guterres said.

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