Twenty-four years seeking justice for egregious rights violations caused by the Chixoy dam project

Publish Date: 
Monday, April 30, 2018

The Chixoy hydroelectric project, located in the Departments of Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz in Guatemala, is responsible for massive human harms, according to ESCR-Net member Association for the Integral Development of the Victims of Violence in the Verapaces (ADIVIMA). The organization, which recently celebrated 24 years in existence on 24 April 2018, has a long history of seeking justice for the victims and survivors of five massacres that occurred in the village of Río Negro, from 1980 to 1982. All for a mega-dam project. 

Construction of the Chixoy dam, financed by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, began in 1975, during the armed conflict that had taken hold of the country. The government in power at the time designated the planned site for the hydroelectric development as an emergency zone. Shortly thereafter, the government tried to evict the residents of Río Negro in order to pave the way for the imminent implementation of the project; however, families refused to leave their land. It was these families, in particular, who suffered attacks – many of them fatal – perpetrated by the army and “self-defense” groups formed to confront insurgents. In October 1993, 177 skeletons (of these, 107 were children, and 70 were women) were discovered in a clandestine cemetery, with similar remains found on subsequent occasions. In total, it is estimated that – between 1981 and 1983 – 444 people were massacred by the military regime for refusing to relinquish their land for the project.

As explained by ADIVIMA, justice for these atrocities has been slow and inadequate. In September 2004, the Government and representatives of the 33 dam-affected communities signed an agreement with the goal of responding to the claims of those affected. In 2010, affected communities and the government jointly developed and committed to implementing a reparations plan for the damages and violations incurred, outlining five measures of reparation for affected families. These measures range from paradigmatic changes in public policy processes; guarantees of non-repetition; environmental, social, and cultural rehabilitation; official apologies to, and honoring of the victims; restitution; and monetary compensation. The plan promised the equivalent of approximately US $160 million. In 2012, the Inter-American Court ruled that Guatemala had violated the human rights of Río Negro residents. Subsequently, a governmental agreement adopted in 2014, created legal and political certainty regarding the implementation of the reparations plan.

However, ADIVIMA has documented how implementation of the reparations plan has been neglected and, ultimately, come to a halt over the last few years. Not only does this constitute a failure to fulfill legal obligations, but additionally, the behaviour of several members of the Presidential Commission for Coordinating Executive Policy in the Field of Human Rights (COPREDEH) towards survivors of severe human rights violations has been denounced as racist and discriminatory. Human rights defenders from the area have alleged that, in combination, the actions taken by officials and the lack of proactive measures to advance the implementation of the reparations plan have resulted in the revictimization of those who are seeking justice for events which took place decades ago.

Based on these facts, ADIVIMA urges both the President and Vice President of the Republic of Guatemala to take urgent action to comply with the reparations plan. In the meantime, and until such action is taken, ADIVIMA requests an investigation of the acts purportedly committed by several State officials.

ADIVIMA is grateful for the solidarity and partnership of organizations and social movements from all over the world during this time, and we take this opportunity to reaffirm our ongoing commitment to secure justice in Alta Verapaz.