Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Suggestions about Amerindians not understanding LCDS ‘insulting’ – Sukhai

GUYANA - Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai acknowledged yesterday that some Amerindian communities lack a clear understanding of the LCDS but insisted there were no language barriers.

The minister stressed that English is the first language of this country’s indigenous communities, and suggestions about whether some Amerindians understood the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) presentations can be viewed as insulting.

“…All Amerindians speak English, English is our first language and Amerindians are no different to any other Guyanese. I will not want to insult the Amerindians by saying they cannot understand the presentations done on the LCDS,” Sukhai charged yesterday in response to a question during a press briefing at her ministry.

“Can I have my say? I allowed you to have your say,” Sukhai told the reporter and she continued that it was insulting to the indigenous community to suggest that some persons could not follow the presentations. Sukhai appeared peeved when a question was posed to her about whether the LCDS was simply not understood by some indigenous communities. She said the presentations were clear and stressed that in some villages, translators were provided for villagers who spoke other languages. She added that translators were engaged in many instances.

Still on the issue, she said the LCDS cannot be translated into the indigenous languages because the languages are not written. She said the target audience of any such translation would not be able to read it. Sukhai added that the National Toshaos Council has plans to expand consultations to many Amerindian villages.

The question of some leaders who currently oppose the LCDS came up and the minister stressed that she has no reason to intimidate Amerindian leaders who disagree with the strategy in its current form and yesterday dismissed allegations involving her ministry as “highly unfounded. …Everyone is open to comment on this, it’s an open field day,” Sukhai said.

Sukhai said her ministry operates on the principle of respect, noting that people are free to say what they like. She said the issue of land rights and demarcation which “APA has raised” is not new and had been raised since the consultations commenced. She said the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) is behaving some nine months after as if this particular issue is fresh on the agenda.

Sukhai held a press briefing yesterday to report that her ministry has expended 20 per cent of its budget so far, which amounts to around $50 million, and is currently awaiting approval from the Finance Ministry and Tender Board to proceed with purchasing capital items. The purchases would include ATVS, outboard engines, chainsaws, tractors and brush cutters among other things.

According to her, the ministry has developed an Amerindian Resident Management Plan to upgrade services currently being provided at the Amerindian hostel. Sukhai said the plan is aimed at improving the efficiency and operations of the hostel. She said they have also formulated a management plan for the health and social welfare of Amerindians. This plan, she said, gives a comprehensive outline of the work the ministry intends to do in these areas and is aimed at streamlining current services.

Sukhai said the ministry will take the lead in interventions in specific areas which will target trafficking-in-persons, cervical cancer and tuberculosis. She said the ministry received two reports of trafficking-in-persons last year, reports which were “not exactly trafficking”.

Community development remains a focus of the ministry, she added. She said too that the ministry has a demarcation and titling plan which will guide them in completing the process. In December 2009, the ministry received $160 million in a presidential grant for that year and to date it has expended 44% of the disbursement in a total of 31 villages, according to Sukhai.

Source: Stabroek News

Friday, March 19, 2010

Furore over Amerindian land rights statement ‘misplaced’ – GHRA

GUYANA - The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) said yesterday that the furore surrounding the statement issued by some Amerindian leaders on land rights is “misplaced and unhelpful”.

It said nothing in either statement issued by the leaders or later by the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) suggests lack of support or even criticism of the Low Carbon Development Strategy or REDD+ strategies.

Following a week-long conference organised by the APA last week, some leaders said that LCDS outreach activities done last year lacked prior information, were often rushed and only lasted a few hours, while suffering from weak or non-existent translation support for communities. They also urged government and international agencies to put a hold on the implementation of policies related to projects like the LCDS and REDD+, until land rights issues are settled and asked that the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) be respected. The statement by the leaders triggered a strong response by government and Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai accused the APA of communicating “misconceptions and half-truths.”

In a statement, the Executive Council of the GHRA questioned what is new or controversial about the calls. It said that “those who can remember life before REDD+” would recall that the issue of land rights is the most predictable response from the Amerindian community to any significant development impacting on the hinterland of Guyana. In this light the GHPA pointed out that there were such responses in the 1990s provoked by Asian forestry companies, the development of National Protected Areas and mining permits regularly provoke such a response. “For this reason, it was more than predictable – and legitimate –” that far-reaching proposals such as the LCDS and REDD+, despite their great potential benefits, would trigger land rights concerns,” said the human rights body.

The GHRA said the response of “parading” how much has been done ‘for’ Amerindians can never resolve the land matter. It is instructive, the organisation said, that issues such as forestry, mining and pollution which began as indigenous concerns evolved into national patrimony issues. According to the GHRA, rather than relief that the call has come in such measured and thoughtful terms, LCDS proponents are reacting with a degree of arrogance “which leaves the on-looker uncomfortable”. Said the GHRA: “The conference statement is being derided because the media reports of the conference (SN in particular) focus almost exclusively on the references in the press release to LCDS/REDD+”. It noted that the original conference release was signed by 26 leaders from across the interior including eight toshaos.

The GHRA said that supporters of the policy should recognise that the threat to land rights – not necessarily from REDD+ – is real and affects all Guyanese. It cited an article in this month’s issue of Grain magazine about land grabbing in Latin America.

GHRA said that in their concerns about land titles, Amerindians are demonstrating a greater awareness of “what may be down the road for the rest of the Guyanese community”.

Another statement by the APA had later said that those who attended the conference were “harassed” and the GHRA said yesterday that this is unacceptable. Such behaviour should be noted by the LCDS process monitors, the human rights organisation said. Noting that both statements make frequent reference to FPIC as the guiding principle for any engagement between indigenous communities and the government, the GHRA said that the authorities and proponents would do well to take the phrase seriously and negotiate with Amerindian communities respectfully. “Society as a whole should also be well-advised to cultivate the practice of demanding free, informed and prior consent as a routine matter, not only in relation to REDD+,” the GHRA said.

Source: Stabroek News

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Some Indigenous leaders ‘harassed’ for voicing concerns over LCDS, REDD+ consultations - APA

GUYANA - 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.

Author: Gaulbert Sutherland
Source:Stabroek News

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bolivia's President Evo Morales, left, accompanied by Bolivia's Justice Minister Nilda Copa, talks during a press conference after the closing ceremony of the Rio Group summit, on the outskirts of Playa del Carmen, 68 kms, some 42 miles, south of Cancun, Mexico, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010. Leaders of 32 nations have agreed to create a new regional bloc including every country in the Americas except Canada and the U.S. (AP Photo/ Israel Leal)

See full story at UCTP Taino News