Almost one/third of the indigenous villages in Regions One and Two have no legal land rights, while only one community out of 29 titled Amerindian villages considers its title to be adequate for its people, an Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) new report finds.
The report, which was launched on Friday at the Cara Lodge Hotel in Georgetown, provided detailed evidence of land rights violations and land conflicts affecting indigenous peoples in Regions One and Two.
The authors of the report conducted surveys on the land rights situation of 35 indigenous villages and communities in Region One and seven villages in Region Two. It discovered that two/thirds of titled villages highlighted that settlements and homesteads are also left outside their title.
Nevertheless, the report made 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.
It was highlighted 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,” said APA President, Mario Hastings during his presentation at the report launch.
In 2015, over 30 percent of titled villages and 80 per cent of untitled customary lands were found to have mining concessions. Similar data emerged for forestry activities with 34 per cent of titled villages and 79 per cent of untitled lands being affected by State Forest Permits or other logging concessions.
It indicated further 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 riverbanks 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.
She added “When we say land we don’t mean the surface alone. We mean everything above and beneath it from the flora and the fauna that depend on it. For indigenous people land is life.”
In its recommendations, the report proposed that 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 recommended that an independent national tribunal to address indigenous peoples’ grievances and concerns to territorial claims be established. The report also emphasised the urgent need to postpone destructive mining and logging operations which directly impact communities, especially in places where FPIC has not been respected.
Meanwhile, the Forest Peoples Programme representative Tom Griffith congratulated the works of the authors and the work of the APA to compile the report. The authors of the report are Sharon Atkinson, David Wilson, Andrew Da Silva, Paul Benjamin, Charles Peters, Roger Alfred and Devroy Thomas. (Guyana Times)