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6 Sep 2019

Emily Greenspan, Oxfam America

Commentary: Indigenous peoples are defending their rights in court—and winning

What a groundbreaking court decision in Guatemala means for environmental justice and indigenous rights.

Raging fires in the Amazon are once again putting the spotlight on parts of Latin America where indigenous communities face violence and extreme pressure for their land and resources.

While these tactics might be resurgent, they are nothing new. From heavy-metal poisoning to murder, indigenous communities across the region have faced decades of neglect and repression. Despite the odds, many are defying these injustices and taking their fight to the courts.

Even more remarkable? They are winning.

Searching for accountability

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in Guatemala—a Central American country under intense pressure from the Trump administration to curb migration of its people to the US.

In 2013, security services opened fire on peaceful indigenous protesters at the entrance to the Escobal silver mine—one of many extractive projects. The incident could have just been another violent response to indigenous activism; instead, the protestors took legal action in Canada—seeking to hold the private company operating the mine—Tahoe Resources—accountable...