Guyana: Indigenous People’s Rights always accorded top priority
MINISTER of Amerindian Affairs, Ms Pauline Sukai says that contrary to opinion in some quarters, the rights of the Indigenous Peoples have always been accorded top priority by the present administration as evinced by its unwavering commitment to addressing various issues affecting the community.
“Indigenous peoples rights continues to be a high priority in Guyana as reflected in the Government’s commitment to maintaining progress on issues such as land titling, stakeholder involvement and empowerment of Amerindians,” the minister said in a statement Friday.
“Over the past 15 years,” she said, “Guyana has been to the forefront internationally in resolving these issues through ways that empower Amerindians while simultaneously balancing society’s responsibilities to all other Guyanese.”
The statement follows recent criticism of the preliminary consultations on the proposed LCDS (Low-Carbon Development Strategy) by the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) and other groups which also claimed that outstanding issues, including lands rights for indigenous peoples, were not being addressed.
The following is the remainder of the minister’s missive:
“At the core of Government’s vision is the belief that citizens should be free to exercise their rights to choose how they live. Enabling the 9% of Guyanese who are Amerindians to realise their land rights through security of tenure is fundamental to gaining this freedom.
“Guyana is one of the first countries to enshrine in national law security of tenure rights for its indigenous people, particularly the rights to freehold title and cadastral boundary demarcation. The Amerindian Act #6 of 2006 became law after extensive stakeholder consultations that made this Act one of the most respected indigenous legislation in the world. In addition to being comprehensive in its scope, the Amerindian Act provides for land titling and also for maintaining traditional rights and democratic village governance.
“In parallel with putting in place the legislative structure to enshrine Amerindian rights, since the early 1990s, the share of Guyana’s territory owned by Amerindians has increased from 6% to approximately 14% to the end of 2009, as lands have been titled, demarcated and extended following requests from Amerindian villages.
“This area is home to nearly 86% of the total Amerindian population. Appendix V of the Low-Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) outlines each village, community and settlement, the processes for titling, demarcation and extension, and the progress made. To date, 97 of the 109 Amerindian villages are titled, and 70 of the titled villages have been demarcated with recorded cadastral survey plans, while 27 villages are to be demarcated.
“The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs is continuing its demarcation programme and has identified 16 villages for demarcation. The recent preliminary LCDS consultations in Amerindian areas confirmed the importance of continuing, and if possible, accelerating the work to resolve Amerindian land issues. In recent years, approximately $50 million has been invested annually for titling and demarcation of Amerindian lands. As indicated by the Minister of Finance during the 2010 budget debate, a specific programme to accelerate Amerindian lands titling, demarcation and extension will be part of the 2010-2015 LCDS investment portfolio. This will be an unprecedented increase in the budgetary allocation to resolve outstanding land issues, and in the coming months, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs will work with the National Toshao’s Council to progress land claims where requested by villages to do so. This builds on the active work of the National Toshao’s Council in helping communities to start to understand the LCDS and Guyana’s role in international negotiations on REDD. The present Chair, Toshao Yvonne Pearson, was the co-leader of the Guyana Delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference held in Copenhagen in December 2009 where she participated in the REDD negotiations (President Jagdeo was the other co-leader).
“President Jagdeo has recognised the vital role that the Toshaos will play in the coming years, saying in June 2009: ‘As the elected leaders of our Amerindian communities, you and your predecessors have played a vital role through an intense period of reform…I know you will continue your hard work and deep commitment on behalf of your people and all our forests, for which I thank you. I also wish to thank you for your initial ideas on creating an indigenous fund with REDD and other forest payments, and the idea that we can use REDD to accelerate the [titling and] demarcation programme. Reconciling REDD with indigenous rights is a very difficult issue globally, so the leadership you are giving in Guyana can also be valuable to others across the world.’
“The work to address land titling and demarcation issues is separate to the work which has just started to determine whether and how villages that are already titled can ‘opt in’ to the terms of the Interim REDD+ payment scheme documented in the LCDS. As stated in the draft LCDS, placing the State Forest Estate in an Interim REDD+ scheme until 2015 will pave the way for the next stage of the development of the LCDS: determining over the coming years whether and how Amerindian lands might be included in the overall forest protection scheme. During initial dissemination activities on the LCDS in 2009, it was emphasised that Amerindian villages would have the option to chose whether and how to opt into the Interim REDD+ scheme up until the end of 2015, in accordance with the principles of free, prior and informed consent. It was also emphasised throughout the consultation period that no deadline would be set for when this choice needed to be made, and that Amerindians could choose not to opt in at all. This echoes repeated commitments from the Government – as stated by President Jagdeo in June 2009, ‘…there will be no deadline imposed as to when forest communities choose to “opt in” to the overall framework.’
“During 2010, discussions will continue on how to develop the ‘opt-in’ process. The first draft of a paper outlining how the ‘opt in’ procedure might work was presented to the LCDS Multi-Stakeholder Steering Committee in March. The paper is now being reviewed by the members of the Steering Committee, including the Chair of the National Toshao’s Council.
“The Government of Guyana has long acknowledged both the urgent need for clarity on Amerindian land issues, and the inherent complexity of achieving a fair land settlement. Considerable progress has been made in the past fifteen years – and there is more to do. This will take time, and success will come through steady, measured steps towards a long-term settlement that is fair to all Guyanese.”