By Caribbean News Now contributor
GENEVA, Switzerland -- United Nations human rights officers have been dispatched to western Guatemala, where clashes between indigenous communities, police and the military have resulted in several deaths and injuries.
“We have received alarming information that six indigenous peasants were killed and at least 30 injured,” a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, told reporters in Geneva.
Seven soldiers are also reported to have been injured in the incident, which took place yesterday in the Department of Totonicapan. According to reports, the day started with a large number of indigenous people putting up several roadblocks protesting against the increase of electrical tariffs and provision of other basic services.
Colville noted that there have been conflicting reports about the location in which the incident occurred.
“Details remain unclear and our office in Guatemala is shortly sending two teams of human rights observers – one to Sololá Department and one to Totonicapan – to verify the facts and follow up on the incidents,” he said.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, visited Totonicapan during her mission to Guatemala in March, during which she met with traditional indigenous authorities to discuss a range of human rights concerns.
During her visit, Pillay had noted that, although indigenous peoples constitute the majority of the population in the country, they continue to be subject to exclusion and denial of their human rights.
Guatemala was one of the first signatories of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which underscores that indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, lamented the violence that has taken place in Guatemala in the Department of Totonicapán, and condemned the deaths of six people in the events that occurred.
Insulza pointed to the urgent need to clarify the origin of the clashes between farmers and members of the National Civil Police and the Army, as an essential step to calm tempers and create space for dialogue. He said that finding points of agreement is the responsibility of everyone and reiterated that only through dialogue can there be movement away from the danger of violence that haunts Guatemalan society.
Justice, said the OAS leader, is a paramount value in the life of nations, and to fight for it exalts both people and governments. In that context, Insulza offered his complete support to President Pérez Molina, in the decisions his government adopts to find and punish those found guilty, and to clarify the dramatic events that took place in the Inter-American Highway that runs through the Central American country.