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Mar 23, 2023 Court Stories, Features / Columnists, News
Kaieteur News – Guyana-born international attorney and climate activist, Melinda Janki is once again speaking out on what she calls another move by Government to short change Guyanese of their patrimony.
This time, Jankie has written a letter to President Ifraan Ali expressing concerns that the government had incorrectly interpreted and misapplied the law to deprive indigenous peoples of their rightful benefits from the some US $750 million deal signed with Hess Corporation, for carbon credits emanating from Guyana’s vast standing forests. The major deal between the government and the global energy giant will see the company purchasing 2.5 million carbon credits annually for the years 2016 to 2030.
The government has so far, agreed to give Amerindian communities a fraction of funds receives thus far amounting to US$22 million.
However, Janki told the President in her letter that the purported consent by the National Toshaos Council is not legally possible. She explained that National Toshaos Council does not own the forests. “It has no legal right to do anything with those forests” Janki asserted adding that “the NTC cannot authorise the government to sell carbon credits.
According to Janki, the Amerindian Act 2006 protects Amerindian land rights, and the only people who can sell carbon credits for forests on Amerindian lands are the Amerindian communities who own the land and forests under a legal title held by their Village Council.”
She emphasised that it is the Amerindian Village Councils who own the forests on the land; the trees which make up those forests; the carbon service which the government has started to sell as a ‘carbon credit’.
She explained “They own the forests, the trees, the carbon service forever. So, if an Amerindian village/community wishes to sell carbon credits they must follow the procedures in the Amerindian Act 2006. These procedures were developed by Amerindian communities to protect themselves from exploitation and outside interference and to stop Village Councils from making bad decisions.”
Janki stated, “The Amerindian Act says that the Village Council must act in the best interests of the Amerindian village/community. That means the Village Council must get independent expert advice from professionals. They cannot ask NGOs, activists, academics etc. for advice. For example: • the Village Council must get independent expert legal advice. Their lawyer has to understand the Amerindian Act and ensure that the carbon credit arrangement complies fully with it.”
She emphasised that the Amerindian peoples have absolute title to land and are in a strong position as landowners. Janki explained that “The Village Council will have to share all the legal and financial advice with the entire village/community. They must consider the advice. This is a difficult issue. The village/community should ask questions until they are sure they understand the issue fully.”
She continued that, “Carbon credits are new. Communities would be better off making their decisions based on traditional Amerindian consensus as preserved by section 34 of the Amerindian Act. Obviously NGOs, activists, government and other outsiders, must not interfere in the village or try to influence their decision. Nobody can rush the Amerindian Village. Nobody can demand an answer. They have to wait. The Amerindian Village can take as long as they like.”
According to the lawyer, these legal rights are more powerful than consultation and free, prior and informed consent [which is contrary to the previous arguments made by some NGOs, rights groups].
“Amerindian property rights and their rights to self-governance are protected by the Constitution and the Amerindian Act 2006,” Janki said. The international attorney therefore said that the government does not have the legal power to require village plans from any Amerindian Village. The government cannot tell Amerindian villages/communities what to do.
“…Under the Amerindian Act 2006, Amerindian villages are free to do as they like as long as they do not try to give away their land rights,” she stated.
In addition to this, the attorney lamented on lack of knowledge of the Amerindian Act 2006 which was assented to by now former President Bharat Jagdeo, some seventeen years. Janki said, “The public debate on the carbon credits issue indicates that NGOs and many people (including public commentators, politicians, activists, and academics) do not understand the Amerindian Act 2006. It seems many Amerindian communities/villages and their leaders are also unaware of the powerful protection of the Amerindian Act 2006. Seventeen years after the Act was passed, this is a disgraceful situation and a failure on the part of every government since 2006.”
She stressed that this knowledge is the only way that Amerindian peoples can protect their lands, their lives and their cultures, and freely determine their future. “…I would therefore respectfully urge you to ensure that every Amerindian community/village is given accurate and comprehensive information about the Amerindian Act 2006 and their legal rights,” the lawyer told President Ali in her letter.
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