Tuesday, April 20, 2010

APA urges donors to ensure indigenous rights upheld when they finance forest conservation

GUYANA - Worried about unresolved land titling and a lack of meaningful participation in decision-making, the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) has urged donors to ensure that indigenous peoples’ guaranteed rights are fully upheld in all forest conservation activities they finance here.

As a result, the APA and some community leaders are calling for an urgent review and amendment of the current Amerindian Act to strengthen land rights as well as the creation of safeguards to ensure that opt-in/opt-out procedures under the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) comply with principles of free, prior, and informed consent. Additionally, they recommended the establishment of an independent Amerindian advisory group to complement the LCDS multi-stakeholder committee and a working group to address the application of international standards in the process.

In a March 10, 2010 letter to Turid Johansen Arnegaard, Senior Advisor for Indigenous Peoples Issues in the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the APA and the community leaders said that the recommendations follow concerns about the lack of an adequate legal framework to protect the rights of the indigenous peoples, including what it described as the absence of meaningful participation in the decision-making on the LCDS/REDD+. “These concerns are crucially important to the sustainability of LCDS/REDD+ but have yet to be adequately addressed,” the APA said, noting that while it fully supports culturally appropriate sustainable development and reducing carbon emissions, the initiatives should not be done at the expense of indigenous peoples’ rights.

The letter has been the source of a recent row between the APA and other indigenous groups over the LCDS. The government has maintained that the LCDS and REDD+ processes have demonstrated openness, transparency, accountability, availability of information and public participation. Further, it has said that from the onset, the LCDS sensitisation education and consultation process was designed and implemented in accordance with international best practice. An independent international NGO, the London-based International Institute for Environmental Development (IIED), provided monitoring of the entire stakeholder engagement process of the LCDS and concluded that the “the LCDS has established the principle of FPIC as the standard for Amerindian communities.”

In the letter, the APA noted that protecting the country’s forests are in the interest of the nation and the world, and it endorsed the idea that the people should benefit from any payments that may be made to protect Guyana’s forests. However, it said a significant percentage of the forest is owned by indigenous peoples, both by virtue of titles issued by the state as well as traditional ownership recognised by international law.

The group’s primary concern is the adequacy of the existing legal framework for the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights here, and particularly in the area of regularisation and protection of their rights to own and control their traditional lands, territories and resources. “While Guyana often talks about the number of villages that hold title, the percentage of Guyana covered by these titles, and the need to complete its process of demarcation, these statements neither dispose of this issue,” it said, adding that the process for titling lands falls short of international obligations. “At present, Guyana’s land titling process is simply an exercise in unilateral and unfettered rule by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs that has little to do with satisfying indigenous peoples’ rights,” the APA argued. It said too that rights of appeal are limited by the absence of enumerated rights and indigenous peoples are left with little option other than to accept the Ministry’s decision.

The APA pointed out that the MOU and the government’s submissions to the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) frame indigenous peoples’ rights solely in the context of Guyana’s existing legislative and constitutional framework. It added that while the underlying assumption appeared to be that the extant legal framework is adequate, both in terms of its recognition and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights, the 2006 Amerindian Act and other important elements of the country’s constitutional framework have been found wanting by the World Bank and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

According to the findings of a 2008 World Bank study, ’The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Biodiversity Conservation,’ the country’s legislation to protect indigenous peoples is “weak.” The Bank also said it was unable to change the framework in place to have adequate recognition of indigenous rights. Its findings were related to the failure of the World Bank/GEF Guyana/National Protected Areas System Project. Meanwhile, two years prior to this, CERD had found that many of the Amerindian Act’s provisions were incompatible with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Among CERD’s findings was the lack of legal recognition of the rights of ownership and possession of indigenous communities over lands they traditionally occupied. In addition, it was also concerned about the state’s practice of granting land titles excluding bodies of waters and subsoil resources to indigenous communities on the basis of unfair criteria. By virtue of Article 154A of the constitution, Guyana is bound to observe the provisions of the convention as part of its international obligations, but the APA said the country has been in breach for four years. “At the very least, these findings call into question key assumptions in the FCPF submissions and the MOU that should provoke… a serious examination of these issues by independent and qualified experts with the full participation of indigenous peoples’ freely chosen representatives,” the APA said. In particular, it argued that the Amerindian Act, in the areas of the regularisation of indigenous peoples’ lands and other issues, must be amended to ensure consistency with Guyana’s international human rights obligations as a prior condition to any financing of further LCDS/REDD+ activities.

Further, the APA said there is also an urgent need to carry out an impartial review of all land titling decisions made to date. The review, it explained, must include an assessment of the extent to which said decisions may or may not be compatible with indigenous peoples’ rights in international law.

Meanwhile, the APA also argued that there has not been adequate participation by the indigenous people in decision-making. It explained that while the process for discussing the LCDS/REDD+ was lauded by the government and others, it has not adequately informed the indigenous people or secured their participation in decision-making. “This does not bode well for the long-term sustainability and effectiveness of the LCDS/REDD+ in Guyana and is contrary to the rights of indigenous peoples,” it said. “The right to participate is triggered at the very earliest stages of the project not after the parameters have been unilaterally predetermined by the State,” it added.

The APA said recent official outreach efforts on the LCDS did not meet the required standards for good faith public consultation, noting that meetings were rushed, documents were not supplied with sufficient time prior, and absent or weak translation support. On the latter point, it noted that local Amerindian translators did not receive prior training in technical climate change and REDD+ terms.

The APA was also critical of the government’s “undue reliance” on only one organisation − the National Toshaos Council − in the discussions. It said the government did not ensure that the council was the organisation legitimately identified by the indigenous peoples as their representative on the issues, as required by international law. While the council is an important statutory body, the APA explained, the views of its executive members must not be substituted for the freely expressed views of indigenous peoples in Guyana.

Source: Stabroek News

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