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Indigenous communities call for independent land commission amidst alleged ‘threats, harassment’ from gov’t officials

Stemming from a three-year research from 2012 into land claims and conflicts of 42 indigenous settlements in Guyana’s regions 1 and 2, communities involved are calling for an independent tribunal for land claims and grievances owing to a number of challenges including interference from former government officials.

“Government officials have sometimes pressured community leaders to give up their request for land title or title extension,” read the 228 page report launched by the Amerindian People’s Association, an indigenous rights group, at the Cara Lodge Hotel on Friday.

“This body must be authorised to hear related evidence on human rights violations linked to mining and logging industries,” the report read.

Research findings from Regions 1 and 2 suggest one third of the 42 communities have no legal land security of any sort. This situation, according to the APA’s Executive Director Jean La Rose has changed somewhat since 2015. She noted the findings represent what transpired between 2012 and 2015.

“The authorities used biased criteria to deny or limit land title,” the report noted, “telling a community it is ‘too small’ to apply for title.” The report also said joint requests for collective land title among villages were ignored by authorities.

“Current national law and ‘save and except’ clauses in land titles allow outside leaseholders to keep previously allocated lands within title areas, thereby undermining land security,” the report stated while expounding that “village land titles seriously limit community ownership of land and resources by excluding subsoil resources and all land within 66 feet of the high water mark of rivers and larger creeks.”

In reported recommendations, the indigenous communities are calling for the cancellation and removal of “mining and logging concessions and agricultural leases imposed without indigenous peoples’ free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) on their land titles, untitled customary lands and extension areas.”

“Residents of at least 18 communities are very unhappy that fines, threats and harassment by government officials, loggers and miners are preventing them from freely enjoying their right to go to their customary untitled lands and use their traditional resources,” the report stated, adding that “demarcation and mapping errors have allowed miners and loggers to encroach on titled lands.”

The indigenous land claims report also said officials from the former Ministry of Amerindian Affairs under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) administration “used biased and strange reasons to pressure villages to reduce their extension area.”

Those measures included telling villagers they “did not have the skills” to administer the area or that the area was already occupied by or leased to outsiders.

 

31% of titled Villages in 2015 and 80% of untitled villages had mining concessions imposed on them, the report reads, while 34% of titled villages and 79% of untitled villages were affected by State Forest Permits or logging concessions.

Maps held by government agencies, miners and loggers were sometimes “contradictory and some have major errors, contributing to the risks of conflict,” the document continued.

Destructive mining, industrial logging, deforestation, and damage to water supplies and fish stocks due to mining and forestry activities has created water shortages, food insecurity, and health problems to nearby villages.

“Weak governance, corruption, mistakes in maps and failure to do land surveys properly have also caused conflicts, and stopped indigenous peoples from getting secure tenure of their customary lands and resources,” the report reads.

A number of recommendations have come out of the 42 communities surveyed for the study. Those include an amendment of the 2006 Amerindian Act “to bring it into line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and related human instruments ratified by Guyana.”

The indigenous communities are also calling for an end to “destructive mining and logging operations that communities have strongly complained about including in Kaituma River and the Upper Barima River.”

 

The report was presented to the Office on Climate Change of the Ministry of the Presidency, the Guyana Forestry Commission, Guyana Geology and Mines, the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, and the National Toshaos’ Council.

The full document could be found here: <http://www.forestpeoples.org/sites/fpp/files/publication/2016/12/lta-study.pdf>