New report highlights threats to the land rights of Indigenous Peoples
The Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) on Friday last launched a report providing detailed evidence of land rights violations and land conflicts affecting indigenous peoples in the Regions 1 and 2 in Guyana.
The land tenure assessment report which was compiled following visits to 35 indigenous villages and communities in Region 1 and seven villages in Region 2, found that almost one-third of the communities have no legally secured land rights.
It also finds that out of 29 titled Amerindian Villages visited; only one community considers its existing land title description to be adequate for its residents. Two-thirds of titled villages highlight that settlements and homesteads are also left outside their title.
APA President, Mario Hastings during his presentation at the launch hosted at Cara Lodge, Quamina Street, Georgetown, “the report contains important information on all the communities visited and includes testimonies from women, elders and youths about the land and what it means to us.” He added that evidence also suggests that the Shell Beach Protected Area directly affects the land rights of several communities near or inside the park itself.
The study finds that weak land governance and flawed boundary survey practices along with discriminatory national laws on land and resource ownership often prevent satisfactory and fair land titling for indigenous communities.
Evidence presented in the study shows how the extractive sector contributes to violations of customary land rights of indigenous peoples.
“In 2015, over 30% of titled villages and 80 percent of untitled customary lands were found to have mining concessions imposed on them. Similar data emerged for forestry activities with 34% of titled villages and 79% of untitled lands being affected by State Forest Permits or other logging concessions. These concessions were allocated without the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the indigenous communities living in the settlements” the APA outlined.
It noted that the granting of logging and mining blocks on community lands has led to conflict between the parties involved and human rights abuses including sexual crimes against Amerindian women and minors. Such cases were reported in Baramita Village in Region 1.
The report further highlights that mining and logging allocations done without FPIC resulted in destructive mining and logging practices causing heavy contamination and pollution of waters, heavy degradation of river-banks and forests resulting in water shortages, food insecurity, and health problems.
Some of the more seriously affected communities are Baramita, Eclipse Falls, Arakaka, Big Creek, Oronoque, Citrus Grove and Canal Bank.
The report sets out a series of grassroots proposals for action to address indigenous peoples’ land claims and grievances with specific recommendations for Village Councils and the National Toshaos Council, the government of Guyana and international agencies.
In 2011, the APA was tasked by its members to conduct a participatory study on the land rights situation facing indigenous communities. The aim was to help Village Councils advance their land claims and to provide information for national projects and initiatives that address indigenous peoples’ lands and forests.
In its recommendations, the report proposes that the government and authorities move forward reviewing and amending the 2006 Amerindian Act so that it will align with articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and related international human rights treaties to which Guyana is a signatory. Additionally, it recommends that an independent national tribunal address indigenous peoples’ grievances and concerns to territorial claims be established.
The report also emphasises the pressing need to suspend destructive mining and logging operations which directly impact communities, especially in places where FPIC has not been respected.
Other recommendations include the need to reform the country’s land titling and demarcation rules, recognise and include skilled indigenous mappers and traditional knowledge holders in boundary surveys and ensure the Amerindian Land Titling (ALT) Project upholds indigenous peoples’ rights.
The APA welcomes the intentions of the government to address some of these issues including the revision of the Amerindian Act and the development of a grievance mechanism, the latter to deal specifically with indigenous lands.
In its concluding analysis, the report commended the current administration’s Hinterland Indigenous Peoples Commission for providing a potentially valuable medium for indigenous communities to engage with and resolve issues of land titling and demarcation. However, it stresses that Guyana’s push for legislative reform must protect the collective legal rights of indigenous peoples on customary territorial lands and provide for effective restitution