Historic audio/visual case heard in High Court
By Latoya Giles
History was marked in the High Court yesterday when audio/visual links were used in testimony in the land rights case six Amerindian village captains have brought against the Guyana government.
The village captains, representing the Arekuna and Akawaio people of Phillipai, Jawalla, Kako, Paruima, Waramadong and Kamarang Keng, are asking the court to declare that they are entitled individually and collectively to the provisions of the constitution, especially regarding their land rights.
The Court established the audio and video link with Professor Mc Culsin from the Oxford University, London. The service was provided courtesy of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T), using the Skype internet service.
The court presided over by Justice Roxanne George Wiltshire, managed to speak to the professor and set a date when she is expected to give her testimony.
According to attorney for the defendants, Nigel Hughes, on February 21, the links will be significantly improved and the professor would give evidence for the first time via audio/ visual links.
He explained that the case was slightly delayed because the telephone company managed to set up the system late.
Further there were no independent laptops for the attorneys.
The village captains are contending that from time immemorial, the tracts of land in the Essequibo area of Guyana, which they described, have been continuously occupied, inhabited, used and enjoyed to the exclusion of all others by the Akawaio and Arekuna people who have at all material times constituted recognized and related nations of the Amerindian people.
Further since time immemorial, the Akawaio and Arekuna people have continuously occupied, used and enjoyed the land and resided thereon as an organised society and identifiable community with a social and political organisation of their own.
However, the indigenous people say they have complaints about the new Amerindian Act.
For example, they claim that the restriction imposed on Amerindian titles by Section 20 A (4) of the Act affords different treatment to Amerindians, attributable wholly to their description by race, because the land of anyone other than an Amerindian can be acquired under the Acquisition of Land for Public Purposes Act only if the Minister declares under section 6 of the Act that the land is required for “public work”.
By contrast, Amerindian titles can be revoked or modified whenever the Minister is satisfied that the land should be repossessed “in the public interest”.
The captains claim that the land required for public work is a question of fact which the court can examine if an interested party challenges the Minister’s decision.
But they say a declaration that the repossession of Amerindian land is justified “in the public interest” would be virtually impossible to challenge.