Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Reviews Freedom of Speech in Guatemala
While the right of Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala to express themselves over community radio channels is granted to them by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the 1996 Peace Accords, and the Guatemalan constitution, this simple freedom of expression is still not legal under Guatemala’s current telecommunications law. Cultural Survival, an Indigenous Peoples rights organization based in Cambridge, MA, has worked with a network of over 80 community radio stations, many broadcasting in one or more of the 23 Indigenous languages of Guatemala, to lobby the Guatemalan Congress to legalize radio for Indigenous People. Unfortunately, their access to radio has been awaiting the approval of congress since 2010. Furthermore, in July 2012 another piece of legislation was proposed to “criminalize the use of the radio spectrum for those not authorized to do so.” The aim of the bill is to remove the community radio stations from air that are currently fighting for recognition. The fight for freedom of expression has become one against time. If the bill passes, the penalty for being on air illegally is up to ten years in prison. Both bills have been recommended by committees in the Guatemalan Congress, but it is uncertain which bill will pass first, the one recognizing Indigenous Peoples rights or the one condemning illegal radio actors.
Currently, Guatemala auctions off frequency radio licenses to the highest bidder. In October 2011, a sister organization to Cultural Survival, Sobrevivencia Cultural, submitted an unconstitutionality claim to the Constitutional Court in Guatemala. The action declared economic and ethnic discrimination for the manner in which the country distributes radio frequencies. Because indigenous communities, historically and currently, are the most economically disadvantaged in the country, equal access to state-owned media is unfair. Though the court ruled against this action, on March 15, 2013, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hold a hearing concerning the freedom of expression of Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala.
This article touches on a couple of key ideas of human rights issues. First, the group that has been actively involved to help the indigenous populations of Guatemala is based in the United States. This reflects on the obstacles that indigenous people face in trying to bring about their own justice. Apart from the cultural and economical barriers, literacy in the political language is a very big deal because that is essentially where the fighting arena is. The role of radio as a technology for these indigenous people is to try to bridge the gap in communications of current political events that is unavailable to them because of their illiteracy. Because indigenous radio stations broadcast in local Mayan languages, they are valuable distribution channels for educational programs, local, national, and international news, and health and emergency information. Technology can really help to bring groups that have been historically left behind and neglected up to speed with the workings of current society. The responsibility is with the 1st world to ensure they have access to those technologies because the indigenous groups are the ones least able to maneuver the political field.