While indigenous peoples represent approximately five percent of the world’s population, they make up 15 percent of the world’s poor, according to a 2009 United Nations (UN) report. An estimated one-third of the world’s 900 million extremely poor rural people are indigenous peoples. Facing the consequences of historic injustices, indigenous peoples also continue to be over-represented among the world’s illiterate and unemployed.
Today, USAID celebrates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (IDWIP) as part of the agency’s commitment to inclusive development that empowers and elevates the protection of indigenous peoples and communities globally.
The U.S. Government’s announcement in 2010 that it would support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples spoke to a stronger commitment to protecting the human rights of indigenous peoples and ensuring their needs could be better addressed through policies and programs that would uniquely benefit their communities. As part of this commitment, USAID is appointing a Special Advisor for Indigenous Peoples this year to ensure that its development programs are addressing the needs of these historically marginalized groups.
Lessons from Guatemala
Current USAID programs that address some of the most pressing needs in the indigenous world focus on human rights including issues of access to justice, land tenure and capacity for political participation. In Latin America, USAID funds resource centers for at-risk youth, creates partnerships with universities to increase indigenous enrollment, trains healthcare workers who speak indigenous languages, and funds democracy programs that aim to increase indigenous representation in local political leadership.
In Guatemala, where an estimated 51 percent of the population is of Mayan descent, USAID programs that benefit indigenous peoples have emphasized protecting human rights and access to justice. Indigenous peoples in Guatemala experience disproportionate degrees of violence, particularly among women who find themselves not only victimized, but unable to find justice in an overburdened and often inefficient legal system.
Between 2009 and the end of 2012, USAID in Guatemala funded the Project Against Violence and Impunity (PAVI). One of the most ambitious and effective initiatives of the $7.1 million dollar project was designed to strengthen the justice sector in Petén, Guatemala’s largest state and home to a majority indigenous population. While the program assisted the Public Ministry in developing more effective judicial processes, it effectively built links between the justice sector and civil society to reduce and prevent violence and strengthen services to assist victims, including people who served as witnesses in trials.
PAVI brought together victim service providers in the capital to ensure that assistance for crime victims met high quality standards. As a result of this collaboration, victim service providers adopted agreed upon guidelines for actions, behaviors, and conduct towards victims, victim-sensitive criteria for judicial performance, and justice administered with respect toward victims. The guidelines were also designed to be culturally relevant and appropriate for indigenous peoples. The PAVI quality standards have been adopted by Guatemala’s National Civil Police and civil society organizations such as the Human Rights Ombudsman in the city of Cobán.
USAID’s earlier strategies for assisting indigenous Guatemalans in accessing justice also included substantial support for the exhumations and reburials of victims of atrocities stemming from Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war, as well as psycho-social services for indigenous survivors. You can learn more about USAID programs that assist indigenous Guatemalans.