Minister of State Dawn Hastings-Williams has given assurance to Toshao Orin Fernandes and members of the Chinese Landing Village Council and Governance and Rights Coordinator at the Amerindian Peoples’ Association (APA), Laura George that the long-standing Chinese Landing/Tassawini land issue will be resolved.
In an article published by the Department of Public Information (DPI), the Minister was quoted saying, “I am against anybody violating any human rights, whether you be Indigenous or any other ethnicity… The government is totally against anybody disregarding people’s rights.”
The Toshao and Council members at a press conference on Thursday expressed fear for their future as a miner, Wayne Vieira who was previously mining on a part of the community’s titled land has returned there to continue works.
The miner has not been in the area since 2010 and the Indigenous peoples have resorted to mining the lands, claiming that farming and hunting are no longer sufficient to provide for their families. But now with the return of Vieira to the mining claim, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) headed by Senior Mining Engineer, Michael Howard, along with three members of the Ministry of Natural Resources’ Corps of Wardens and four members of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), began an enforcement operation in the area.
The objective is to remove all mining operations from Vieira’s mineral properties.
The Minister, after a meeting with the Toshao and Village Council, said she will seek to have the matter addressed. The team presented her with a copy of their certificate of title and the absolute grant. She noted that is it evident that the business is encroaching on the village lands.
“What I said to them is that I cannot do it alone, I have to collaborate with my colleagues Minister of Natural Resources and Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs,” she was quoted as saying in the DPI article.
The State Minister emphasized that the APNU+AFC Government is against anyone disregarding the rights of citizens.
The issue began in 1995 when permission was given by the GGMC) to Vieira to mine within the boundaries of the village’s titled land without the consent of the village council. The community of Chinese Landing received title to its lands since 1976.
In 2010, the GGMC had issued a Cease Work Order (CWO) to Vieira on the basis that he was violating the Amerindian Act. He, in turn, challenged GGMC Commissioner Newell Dennison in the High Court, where he had won, and subsequently in the Court of Appeal where he lost his appeal. Vieira then took the matter to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which ruled in his favour in December 2017.
The residents believed that this was a grave injustice to them since they were not a part of any discussion to grant permission to Vieira to excavate the area.
Subsequently, in 2018, discussions between the GGMC and representatives of the Chinese Landing took place when it was pointed out that the ruling of the CCJ affirmed Vieira’s rights to the mining concession and copies of the Order of Court were shared.
According to Toshao Fernandes, the village land title was not used as evidence in the court, nor was the village informed about a court case, and so for him, the issue remains unresolved.