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Fact-finding mission to Chinese Landing after international human rights ruling

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 July 2023, 21:01 by Denis Chabrol

In the wake of a formal request by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for the Guyana government to address security and environmental complaints by Indigenous Caribs stemming from gold mining at Chinese Landing, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo on Thursday said a broad-based team of government officials would be dispatched to the area.

“We intend to respect the ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights so we are going to once again send in another team to visit the area and that will be a multifaceted team dealing with environment, social issues, mining rights, everything to meet with the community and then prepare our report which we will then submit to the IACHR,” he said.

He noted that the issue was complex because ultimately the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled in favour of the gold miner carrying on their operations, despite an earlier enforcement of a ‘cease work order’ by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) because that miner had breached the Amerindian Act and should have given the village at least 10 percent royalty. He noted that the mining permit was issued before land titles had been issued. “The Caribbean Court of Justice lifted the cease order so we had stopped mining in this village effectively, saying that you have to comply with the Amerindian Act,” he said.

He hoped that the planned “one meeting” would be able to resolve the issue including threats. “We will ensure that the team has representatives from every sector that will go and have a full-fledged discussion with the villagers and meet the people there,” he said. Specifically, on the matter of the threats Mr Jagdeo said government would examine the report to “get to the source of the threat” as well as separate the real concerns from fictions.

Mr Jagdeo said last year the Toshao informed him that there was a lot of illegal mining in the area, and miners were being forewarned about GGMC’s impending arrival and so equipment and stocks are moved before.

The GGMC, he said, informed him that the matter was “complicated” as several villagers support the mining company while others do not. Since then, government has given permission to the Toshaos to mine but there are illegal miners in the area, he added.

He said there had been instances in which Amerindians there had allowed and even gotten involved in gold mining themselves.

Mr Jagdeo’s announcement that a muti-disciplinary team would be sent to the area came after the IACHR, an autonomous and primary body of the 34-nation Organisation of American States (OAS), issued  a resolution on July 21, 2023 stating that the Caribs “are in a serious and urgent situation, given that their rights to life and personal integrity are at serious risk.”

That Western Hemispheric juridical body said the request for  precautionary measures was filed by the Village Council of the indigenous Carib community of Chinese Landing, the Amerindian Peoples Association of Guyana and the Forest Peoples Programme was received by the IACHR on March 8, 2023.

That body has asked the Guyana government to take the necessary measures to protect the rights to life and personal integrity of the members of the Indigenous Carib Community of Chinese Landing identified as beneficiaries, with a cultural, gender-based, and age-appropriate perspective to prevent threats, harassment, and other acts of violence against the beneficiaries; consult and agree upon the measures to be adopted with the beneficiaries and their representatives, and report on the actions taken to investigate the events that led to the adoption of this precautionary measure, so as to prevent such events from reoccurring.

The Commission says it took note of the actions informed by the State to investigate the beneficiaries’ risk situation. However, that body appeared unconvinced that decisive action was taken to bring the perpetrators to justice. “Nevertheless, while the IACHR valued these actions, it noted that they have not resulted in identifying suspects, the start of criminal trials, and/or holding perpetrators responsible. The Commission observed that several claims brought by the beneficiaries on risk events were dismissed by the State as misleading or for lacking evidence, without indicating that investigations have taken place,” the IACHR states.

But Mr Jagdeo said the community was government’s “primary” concern and so those involved committing illegal acts should be punished. “We believe that any transgressions there of a social, environmental, mining nature should be penalised heavily. We share that view but it is very complicated,” the Vice President told a news conference.

The IACHR says the petition indicates that the members of the Indigenous Carib Community of Chinese Landing are facing threats, harassment and acts of violence in the context of their opposition to mining activities in their lands. The representatives alleged repetitive incidents of threats and harassment, which would occur “daily” or “regularly”; informed on acts against persons in particular vulnerability such as aggression to a young man, attempted rape of a minor, and threat with a knife against an elder person; as well as the extensive use of firearms, with firing incidents. The beneficiaries have also received collective death threats, reportedly perpetrated by mine workers. For example, the Toshao, who is the leader of the community, was allegedly warned that if the village wins its lands back, the miners would not leave easily and people would die.

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July 2023