Some Indigenous leaders ‘harassed’ for voicing concerns over LCDS, REDD+ consultations -APA
Some Indigenous leaders, who recently voiced concerns about the scope of government consultations over forest preservation plans, have since been victims of intimidation tactics, the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) disclosed yesterday, while maintaining that genuine concerns of communities cannot be ignored.
Meanwhile, Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai has acknowledged that there is more to do to help Amerindians understand the government’s plans but accused the APA of communicating “misconceptions and half-truths.”
The APA said that since the issuing of a public statement last Tuesday by Indigenous leaders following a week-long meeting, they have been “harassed” with one woman being told that she would “be in trouble” when she returns to her community. The NGO emphasised that leaders have not rejected the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS); rather, they maintained that core issues must be addressed before the plan moves forward.
In their statement on Tuesday, the Indigenous leaders called on government and international agencies to shelve policies related to projects like the LCDS and REDD+ until free, prior and informed consent guidelines for land use are in place. They had slammed LCDS outreach activities done last year, stating that participants at these 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 expressed concern too 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). “There is still inadequate and inaccessible information in the villages for leaders and community members to be able to make fully informed decisions on these national policy proposals,” said the APA yesterday. It added that the content of the documents are changing more rapidly than communities can keep abreast. “The draft LCDS document that some individuals would have seen in June and July of last year has since changed but most leaders are not aware of this. Additionally REDD has now changed to REDD+ but many communities do not even know about REDD,” the NGO said.
The organisation also accused the government of “targeting” participants as a result of the statement. It said that leaders reported receiving multiple telephone calls from the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs’ Community Development Officers (CDO) asking for information on who attended the “workshop” and seeking to find out if persons had informed the village that they were going to be a part of the event. According to the APA, the leaders’ freedom of association came into question when the OCC called its office to find out if the National Toshaos Council (NTC) had been invited to the event. It said that Sukhai also called the APA’s Programme Administrator, Jean La Rose, to ask who had funded the workshop. “These queries are uncalled for and can only be interpreted as intimidation tactics utilised by the current administration against those associated with the released statement. The Executive Committee of the APA is questioning if there should only be one opinion on an issue concerning indigenous rights and whether this must always concur with the government’s position,” the statement said. The APA also reiterated that there are genuine concerns of indigenous communities that must be addressed by the government and these cannot be ignored, “nor must those speaking out be intimidated for raising our voice.”
Sukhai, meanwhile, said that many “public awareness consultations” were held across Guyana with a focus on the hinterland and Amerindian communities. She said the process provided opportunities for everyone to seek clarifications, voice concerns, offer recommendations and to submit these beyond the completion of the public consultations. She said that over 3300 persons attended 50 sessions and the Toshaos who signed the statement, with the exception of two, were present at the LCDS awareness session. She said that they “may have hibernated” during the LCDS consultations.
Full support in principle
According to the Minister, translators of Amerindian languages were present where necessary. “We respect and ardently promote the native and cultural aspects of all Indigenous peoples and will under no circumstances deny knowledge sharing amongst Amerindians on any important national developmental issue such as the LCDS,” she stated. The minister said that participants should accept that the majority of Amerindian villages that participated in the LCDS consultation expressed “full support in principle” for the LCDS and provided written endorsement. Sukhai said that the APA chose not to attend the public awareness sessions and did not participate at multi-stakeholder committee meetings.
On FPIC, she said that the LCDS only commits state forests with opportunities for Amerindian titled villages to “opt-in” at a later date if villagers approve. She said that attorney, David James, who spoke on this issue at the meeting, should have known this since he was part of the multi-stakeholder steering committee that participated in consultations and represented Guyana internationally. Sukhai declared that a report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) said that for indigenous people the consultation was planned to be structured so that communities had space to meet independently of the formal consultation process in order to develop their own position.
But the APA said that the IIED found “serious fault” in last year’s LCDS outreach, noting the report said that information was not provided sufficiently ahead of time to communities, feedback mechanisms were unclear raising questions about how recommendations will be taken up in the LCDS plans, and the meetings failed to explain core concepts like REDD and environmental services.
The heart of the problem on FPIC, said the APA, is that while the draft LCDS and REDD+ plans commit the government to FPIC; it is only in relation to titled lands. Existing titling arrangements are inadequate and the titles many communities possess do not cover the full extent of the lands they traditionally own and have rights to in international law, it said. “It means that under the existing mechanisms, large areas of our traditional lands and forests could be included in LCDS and REDD+ schemes without a fair and due process that recognises our inherent rights to land and FPIC in relation to untitled traditional lands,” the statement said.
Sukhai said that Guyana is one of the few countries in the Amazon area where indigenous people have legal ownership of their communal land. She said that her Ministry follows due process in bring these lands under the ownership of the Amerindians. She said that 73 out of 97 titled villages have been demarcated. Of the remaining titled villages, nine have applied for demarcation, six have not accepted demarcation and six have sought redress in the Court on their land claims, Sukhai said. She added that government pays for demarcation and questioned the land claim issues. She stated that there are provisions in the Amerindian Act for villages to apply for extensions to their lands. “Anyone who would argue that the process of titling, demarcation and extension of lands requested by Amerindians fails to take due consideration of the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent clearly do not themselves understand that principle they claim to uphold,” Sukhai said.
Meantime, the APA said that while the Office of Climate Change (OCC) states that Amerindian rights are protected under the Amerindian Act, this is disputed by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) report of 2006, among others, which has identified its short comings in relation to land and other rights. “The decision-making process on titling is not transparent and does not meet international norms that require that titling be based on customary rights and land tenure systems,” it said.
Sukhai, in her statement said too that print and digital copies of the LCDS second draft have been distributed to all Amerindian village leaders. She said that the LCDS is a work in progress and scrutiny of the second draft and REDD+ documents are ongoing. The minister encouraged Amerindian villages to further seek clarification and offer opinions, suggestions and recommendations. “An important issue to note is the recognition that there is more work to be done to assist Amerindians in accumulating an extensive understanding of the LCDS and its relevant components including REDD, REDD+ and FCPF…,” she said. The Minister also questioned why more Toshaos and or the Ministry were not invited to the meeting.
Meantime, a statement issued by Ashton Simon, on behalf of the National Amerindian Development Foundation, the Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana and the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous Peoples, stated that the organisations were “baffled” by the statement that emanated from the workshop. The statement said that it is questionable why the APA would hold a workshop to prioritise consultations “eight months after such activities were concluded.” It expressed fear that the publications are bent on damaging the progress and agreements made so far.