Dec 04, 2021 News
…Marudi mining agreement
Kaieteur News – “It is true that there have been mining permits issued over Marudi for years, but any change in circumstances immediately demands meaningful and effective consultation with, and the consent of the rights holders, the Wapichan, before any agreement can be signed. Don’t put the cart before the horse and say that all is well because it is not.”
This is the position of Amerindian chief and Wapichan elder, Tony James.
James, in a letter to this newspaper, pointed out that Governments future and present must respect the rights of indigenous people and consult them in accordance with traditional norms, and their right to give consent, regardless of negative or positive outcome.
“I demand of the present and future governments to respect us as first-class citizens who deserve respect, especially for our rights to our lands, territories and natural resources, our right to be consulted in accordance with our traditional norms, and our right to give our consent, be it negative or positive, free of political interference, intimidation or any other form of coercion,” the Wapishana leader urged.
Furthermore, he said the way in which the people of South Rupununi, Region Nine learnt of the agreement was disrespectful.
“When are we going to stand up and ensure that human rights of indigenous peoples are respected and upheld? Where was the broad-based participation when our lands, our sacred mountains, were again burdened by mining concessions and permits, and we learned of this via a Facebook post? Imagine if this were your house or your farm. Imagine if this was one of your sacred places, your church, mosque or temple,” the Amerindian chief contended.
In addition to this, he argued that last Saturday’s meeting cannot be labeled a consultation with the village, especially since the community and Toshao were merely informed a day before the proceedings.
In fact, the village leader argued that the community is still clueless as to what agreement was signed, since it is yet to be made available for their viewing, although it was requested during the ministerial visit last week.
“Our communities have [still] yet to even receive any copy of the signed agreement, let alone have any meaningful opportunity to participate in the negotiation and drafting of the agreement. Indeed, respecting our right to free, prior and informed consent is impossible now that the agreement is already signed,” James said.
As a consequence, he said the only remedy is to revoke the agreement and recommence the process of discussions, with regard to the activities the villagers will allow at Marudi.
Marudi is a sacred mountain and is in the Traditional Lands, in an area where the Wapishana tribe currently has a pending extension application. The land has been formally claimed by the indigenous group since the 1967 Amerindian Lands Commission Report.
The Wapishana people have previously objected to decisions being made about Marudi without prior consultation or participation in decision-making.
“The issue is not about whether we want mining or not, or the possible benefits of mining, or about how many permits have been granted previously; the main issue is that this agreement, which authorizes activities on our traditional lands and will have direct impacts on our indigenous communities, was signed without our effective participation and inclusion in decision-making,” the Amerindian chief explained.
He said that the continued and serious violation of the rights of the indigenous people to free, prior and informed consent and to effectively participate in decision-making violates the protections in the Constitution of Guyana for their cultural heritage and way of life, as well as the rights protected in international conventions incorporated therein.
In 2018, the Caribbean Court of Justice explained that our “Constitution’s Preamble indicates the determination of the Guyanese people to ‘forge a system of governance that promotes concerted effort and broad-based participation in national decision-making in order to develop a viable economy and a harmonious community based on democratic values, social justice, fundamental human rights, and the rule of law’”.
In this regard, James pointed out, “Where was the concern for social justice and the fundamental human rights of indigenous peoples, we who must live with the direct consequences when the others have all moved on? In the same case, the CCJ further explained that our constitutional promise of equality prohibits the State from adopting measures “that treat a group of persons as second-class citizens, or in any way that otherwise offends their dignity as human beings”. This is how we have been made to feel; second-class citizens, whose dignity and rights have been trampled on, yet again”.
Last Saturday, a ministerial team comprising of Minister of Natural Resources, Vickram Bharrat, Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn, and Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai rushed to Aishalton village to meet with residents, after they began protesting the signed agreement with the Rupununi Small Miners to reboot operations. Kaieteur News understands that a new prospecting licence to Aurous, a Canadian mining company was also granted, which permits exploration for gold on the sacred mountain.
The controversy over government’s signing of the agreements, without consultations with the indigenous people, has attracted the attention of a Caribbean Human Rights lawyer. The lawyer believes that the incumbent administration should not only apologise to the locals, but rescind the contract until the required processes are followed.
The Human Rights lawyer, Malene Alleyne, explained the importance of consultations. “This is essential, so that any consent that is given by the Wapishana people is informed, so they give their consent knowingly and voluntarily,” Alleyne said.
Additionally, the Human Rights lawyer pointed out that another requirement is that these consultations must be in good faith, with the objective of reaching an agreement, which must be in accordance with the Wapishana people’s own traditions.
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