With more than 14 million people, Guatemala is one of the most populous countries in Central America. It is also a multicultural society with a large number of indigenous groups and Afro-descendant communities. Despite a slow economic recovery, unequal distribution has meant that Guatemala remains one of the poorest countries in the region. This impacts disproportionately on the country's indigenous population, particularly women, who suffer markedly lower developmental outcomes in health care, nutrition and education. While literacy rates for non-indigenous young males in urban areas are 97 per cent, for example, for young indigenous women in rural areas the rates fall to just 68 per cent.

Guatemala continues to struggle with the legacy of its recent history of political violence, particularly towards indigenous peoples, with limited justice for the many victims of human rights abuses during the decades-long civil war. Indigenous women were especially vulnerable to rape and torture, comprising 88 per cent of all those targeted with gender-based violence during the conflict, and continue to experience high rates of violence and discrimination. During the year, some steps have been taken by the government to address impunity and limited access to justice by indigenous women and girls, including the creation of specialized tribunals against femicide in the departments of Chiquimula, Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango and Alta Verapaz.

The year 2013 began with the announcement in January that cases would be opened against former President José Efraín Ríos Montt, together with retired General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, for genocide and crimes against humanity, targeting indigenous peoples, during Ríos Montt's tenure between March 1982 and August 1983. The trials started in March and the testimonies of 90 Maya Ixil survivors helped to demonstrate that armed forces implemented a strategy of eradication of Maya Ixil people, who were considered by the government to be linked to the guerrillas. Techniques aiming to destroy the 'internal enemy', such as militarization, massacres and scorched earth policies, resulted in the killing of 1,771 Maya Ixil people, the forced displacement of 29,000 people from their ancestral lands and sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls. On 10 May, Ríos Montt was convicted on these charges – the first time a former head of state has been successfully prosecuted in a domestic court for genocide. Ten days later, however, this decision was annulled by the Constitutional Court. It was subsequently announced that the retrial would not begin until January 2015, leaving victims without access to justice.

In July, a break-in occurred at the office of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, with computers and other documentation stolen by the unknown perpetrators. La Rue is a Guatemalan labour and human rights lawyer. The incident highlighted the ongoing challenges facing human rights groups in the country. A further high-profile case involved Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj, an indigenous K'iche' activist who has extensively researched the impact of violence and discrimination during the civil war. During the year, following the publication of a critical article, she was publicly denounced by the head of the Foundation against Terrorism, Ricardo Méndez.

Indigenous peoples are still demanding the state's formal recognition of their right to their ancestral lands and natural resources, including their right to determine their own forms of development and their right to free, prior and informed consent. Land rights continue to be a source of violence and social tensions, with the UN reporting 1,336 cases of ongoing land disputes in 2013. Extractive industries in the country have had a particularly damaging effect on communities. Following the end of an extended moratorium on mining licences in the country, hundreds of exploration and exploitation licences for metals mining have been issued, with reports of misleading or inadequate consultation with communities. During the year, indigenous activists protesting mining and hydroelectric projects in their areas continued to be harassed and intimidated for their activities.

Media coverage in Guatemala has been accused of actively encouraging violence. In October 2013, NGO representatives presented details on the current human rights situation at a hearing of the IACHR. Among other issues, the petitioners accused the media of actively conducting a hate campaign against rights defenders, using offensive names like 'lowlifes', 'terrorists' and 'parasites', which they felt reached the level of incitement to violence against them – reinforced by remarks from government officials appearing to condone these attacks. As a result, according to the petitioners, over 600 attacks had occurred against defenders between January and October 2013, an increase of 40 per cent compared to 2012.

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