Indigenous leaders call for hold on LCDS, REDD+ projects
Indigenous leaders are calling on government and international agencies to shelve policies related to projects like the LCDS, REDD+ until free, prior and informed consent guidelines for land use are in place.
As they prepare to meet with a Norwegian team today, the leaders say that they are concerned that current local and international policies do not adequately recognise their positive role in maintaining the environment and forests and has failed to protect their rights, including the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). The leaders say that they are engaged in developing proposals and guidelines for FPIC in their communities at different levels and said that until these are in place, the government and international agencies should refrain from any proposed implementation of extractive industry, infrastructure LCDS, REDD+ or other projects and programs that may affect their lands and territories.
In a strongly worded statement, they slammed the outreach activities carried out by government on the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) last year. “Participants reported that the meetings lacked prior information, were often rushed and only lasted a few hours and also suffered from weak or non-existent translation support,” they said. Concern was also expressed that recommendations-notably those relating to land rights and the 2006 Amerindian Act – made in those meetings have not been taken on board in the latest draft of the LCDS.
The public statement came following a week-long workshop on ‘Indigenous Peoples Rights, Extractive Industries and National Development Policies in Guyana.’ A number of Toshaos, community, district and regional leaders and Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) Executive members from across Guyana participated in the workshop, held in Georgetown. The leaders said yesterday said that there is an urgent need to address unresolved land issues and called on government and the international community to advance the land rights of indigenous peoples and ensure that the principle of FPIC is respected. “Our top most priority is to secure our traditional lands and territories,” said Toshao Devroy Thomas, from Arau, Region Seven. “Outstanding land claims must be resolved and our rights secured before mining, logging, or any other project that may have direct or indirect impacts on our traditional lands, territories and resources proceeds,” he added.
Adverse land use practices
According to a press release, after sharing their experiences on both public-sector and private development projects and proposals within their territories, the participants concluded that current practices in Guyana do not adequately respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples. “The principle of free, prior and informed consent, which is enshrined in the National Constitution, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples endorsed by Guyana, and international treaties to which Guyana is a signatory demands more of the Government, of developers, and of international donors than is currently practiced,” attorney David James said. His statement was echoed by leaders, who said that current practices and norms in Guyana do not adequately uphold guaranteed rights to good faith, prior consultation and FPIC. They expressed concerns over the failure of the responsible authorities to fully implement FPIC, in accordance with the international obligations of Guyana, including in relation to untitled traditional lands.
Addressing their experiences with public consultations regarding government and private sector projects and proposals, the leaders said that existing methods and mechanisms for information sharing are “grossly deficient.” They said that in almost all cases, villages suffer from a severe shortage of up-to-date official and other news and information. They noted that telephone and internet connections are vital to ensure that communities are able to obtain and share timely information but these are not in place. “Our collective experience shows that information on public policies and projects, including mining projects, often arrives late in our communities (if at all), in a format that is not understandable to our villagers and we are expected to comment and make decisions within schedules that do not respect our traditional and community-based decision-making customs and procedures,” the leaders said. “It is not acceptable that communities should be referred to government web sites to obtain the second draft of the LCDS document or other official information when we do not even have telephones,” Roger Alfred from Paramakatoi village, Region Eight declared.
They slammed mining and exploration practices, noting that the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) as well as private developers appear to be breaching the law, which requires prior notice for concessions and permits as well as prior consent for mining activities affecting titled Amerindian Lands under the 2006 Amerindian Act. “We heard many stories from each region, where large-scale projects being undertaken by foreign companies are proceeding, but where relevant authorities such as the GGMC are failing to provide us with the necessary and timely information required to inform our communities and uphold our right to consent,” Amrita Thomas from Kamarang, Region Seven said. “This must change,” she added.
‘No REDD without rights’
The Reducing Emissions from Deforesta-tion and forest Degradation (REDD)-Plus proposals by the Guyana Forestry Commission and World Bank were also questioned, with leaders stating that they did not understand what REDD-plus and carbon trading are about, nor how these proposals might affect the rights, interests and way of life of Amerindian peoples. “The confused information and changing government positions on core issues call into question whether information is being provided in good faith by either the Guyana Government or the international agencies that support this scheme,” Andrew da Silva from Arakumai Village, Region One said, emphasising that “there can be no REDD without rights.” “Until such times as we have these community policies on FPIC in place, we call on the government and international agencies to refrain from any proposed implementation of extractive industry, infrastructure, LCDS, REDD-plus or other projects and programmes that may affect our lands, territories and resources,” da Silva continued.
The leaders expressed concern about public pronouncements reportedly made by the National Toshaos Council (NTC) Chair in international meetings discussing LCDS and REDD-plus policies, incorrectly suggesting that there are no serious unresolved Amerindian land issues in Guyana, other than those in relation to the Upper Mazaruni land case. The statement said that queries were also raised regarding recent unconfirmed reports of requests by the Minister of Amerindian Affairs and the NTC chair encouraging Toshaos to write letters in support of the LCDS proposals, without following due FPIC procedures needed to uphold the rights of Amerindian peoples.
The leaders made several recommendations, including calling for urgent measures to establish effective, fair and transparent mechanisms to clarify and secure Amerindian land and territorial rights in Guyana. They also demanded that the GGMC and other relevant national authorities take urgent measures to fully respect the law and Amerindian rights to free, prior and informed consent before permitting mining and exploration activities. In addition, they said that there is a need for the Environmental Protection Agency to update environmental and social impact assessment standards in Guyana to meet international standards and best practices.
Further, they called on government and international donors to respect FPIC before adopting LCDS and REDD-plus policies, including provisions for ensuring that Amerindian communities have full information about how these policies might affect their lands and rights, and an ability to “opt-out” if they determine that such policies do not meet their needs. They made a number of other recommendations.
Meanwhile, the leaders noted that many issues with consultation and implementation were the direct result of inadequate infrastructure in many regions, and called on the government and donors to take immediate steps to remedy this situation by investing in satellite telecommunication and internet services for Amerindian communities, among other measures.