Mayan fellow fights for land, heritage and culture

“Standing up to protect our land and our culture is not an option,” said Miguel de Léon said. “It is not only the human rights of indigenous peoples, but our life and future that are at stake.”

De Léon recently participated in the four-week Indigenous Fellowship Programme of the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva. Since the launch of the Programme in 1997, over 300 indigenous men and women have been given the opportunity to learn about the UN system, human rights instruments and mechanisms with indigenous rights as a key component.

De Léon said he is working on several issues with Ixil rights groups in Guatemala: land, territory and resources, preservation of the Ixil Maya culture, as well as issues concerning the economic empowerment of indigenous youth and women. He belongs to the Collective Komon Aq’on Xe’q’iisa and is a professor at the Maya Ixil University. He also supports Ixil ancestral authorities on matters concerning the preservation, management and protection of their natural assets.

The interest in natural assets that lie within Mayan lands is increasing, de Léon said. There are currently ongoing plans to build new hydroelectric dams in the Ixil region. The first two dams (Hidro Xacbal and Palo Viejo) have already been built and, according to de Leon, had a negative impact to the environment, including rivers and forest, and have also divided communities. Unfortunately, many Ixil leaders have been intimidated, persecuted and arrested in pursuing their human rights advocacy, he said.

“Being a human rights defender has always attracted me,” said de Léon Ceto. “We are working to protect our culture, our practices and knowledge.”

13 November 2014

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