Guyana has been a major proponent of international funding for avoided deforestation in tropical countries. In 2009 the government signed an MOU with the Kingdom of Norway under an agreement to reduce deforestation, pursue low carbon (non-fossil fuel) development and enter into negotiations with the EU on a trade treaty under the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) initiative. Almost five years after the signing of this bilateral agreement, how are indigenous peoples’ rights and local benefit sharing issues being addressed in Guyana’s land use, forest and climate policies?
A detailed report jointly published in June by the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) and FPP seeks to answer these questions by looking at the treatment of indigenous peoples’ rights in the country’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), including under major hydropower development projects planned at Amaila Falls in Region 8 and in the Upper Mazaruni (Region 7). A detailed analysis is made of land tenure governance and the approach to land rights in national climate policies. The final section of the report contains in-depth investigation into the approach to participation, tenure and governance issues in the early stages of the Guyana-EU FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) process.
Customary land rights not adequately protected
The analysis finds that land tenure policies and legal frameworks in Guyana suffer from major gaps, which generate multiple land conflicts that are commonplace between Amerindian communities and loggers and miners in the forested areas of the country. The report highlights that unless legal reforms are put in place, including changes to the land rights provisions of the Amerindian Act, inadequate protections for customary land rights risk a massive ‘green’ land grab by REDD and PES programmes in the country, with Amerindians being the ‘losers’.
Contradictory national policies driving deforestation
Rampant and aggressive expansion of the mining sector is found to be causing permanent and long term land use change and deforestation in the interior of Guyana. Increasing use of heavy, caterpillar tracked excavators by miners is damaging water sources, diverting creeks and rivers and eradicating valuable forest and farming lands used by Amerindian villages. Advancement of the mining frontier is resulting in gross human rights abuses in Amerindian Communities, including systematic sexual violence against women and children.
"In this last ten years especially there has been a huge influx of miners into Baramita. The people are being torn apart! Carib women live in fear and there are savage rapes and terrible violations. A young Carib mother was gang raped by seven men just this week (on a visit to Port Kaituma). Now she has died from her injuries. A lot of people are dying from HIV aids. And Carib people are killing themselves in despair as well. Just the last two months there have been four suicides." [Village resident, Baramita Village, October 2013]
Amerindian Villagers express confusion about the government policies that on the one hand seek to protect the forest in the country, yet on the other are permitting large infrastructure projects to clear forest lands with more and more concessions being handed to miners and loggers:
“Villagers only learned of the A Mazaharally concession through maps provided by the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) in 2009 in connection with fines on villagers for alleged ‘illegal logging’ inside their own traditional (untitled) lands. Now the land is occupied by an Asian logging company and we know nothing of these deals. We do not understand how the government says it wants to save the forests, while it allows massive forest destruction by big Chinese and Malaysian companies yet punishes small people like us under the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS)”
[Village Resident, Kwebana, Region 1, 2012]
Late consultations on forest and climate schemes
The assessment finds that genuine consultation on REDD+ and related issues such as the GFC’s FCPF Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP) has so far not taken place at the community level (though sporadic government outreach has occurred). In the vast majority of cases, most Amerindian Villages still have only a limited understanding of what REDD entails and how it may affect their livelihoods and forests – for good or for bad. The APA-FPP report stresses that unless much more effort is made to provide balanced and accessible information in terms that are understandable for villagers and Village Councils, a credible FPIC procedure will not be possible.
Non-compliance with agreed social standards
It is highlighted that independent audit of the LCDS in 2012 found that agreed social safeguard indicators for indigenous peoples’ rights had not been met. The recent validity of a 2013 audit conducted by INDUFOR is also questioned, as there is no evidence to suggest that safeguard implementation problems have been resolved. While the priority focus on land tenure in the LCDS is found to be highly positive, the report is critical of the Guyana REDD Investment Fund (GRIF) Amerindian Land Titling (ALT) project for its failure to tackle serious defects in Guyana’s regulations for the titling and demarcation of indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources.
Due diligence lacking in Amaila LCDS ‘flagship’ project
Likewise, a detailed review of the Amaila Falls energy project finds that FPIC has not been complied with, while social and environmental impacts assessments have so far failed to pinpoint indirect and cumulative impacts on Patamona lands and way of life.
Information on Upper Mazaruni hydro dam unclear
In relation to the proposed Upper Mazaruni dam project, already rejected once by the Akawaio and Arekuna peoples in the 1980s, it is found that there is a huge shortage of information on the contents of the governments and companies’ current dam-building proposals. Villages have been assured by the government in March 2014 that they will not be flooded or resettled under a new dam design. However, no maps or plans of the revised dam project have been seen by Amerindian Villages and so the Akawaio are unable to verify these new claims. Meanwhile, villagers remain steadfast that they will stick to the collective position of their forefathers to reject any dam that threatens their lands, livelihoods and way of life.
FLEGT roadmap must be slowed
Detailed assessment of the FLEGT process highlights shortcomings in the current multi-stakeholder arrangements and process for the development of the national VPA definition of ‘legal’ timber. Reluctance on the part of the government to discuss failings in current national policies on land rights and forest governance is noted as an obstacle to meaningful multi-stakeholder dialogue on reforms needed to ensure that the timber industry respects indigenous peoples’ rights. As with REDD, it is noted that many communities lack information on the FLEGT-VPA process and its implications for local livelihoods. The report calls for strengthening of consultation and participation arrangements for the VPA negotiations and a slowdown in the road map schedule to allow for meaningful consultation with Amerindian Villages.
Call for focused action on land rights
Among numerous specific recommendations on measures needed to protect indigenous peoples’ rights, the report calls for a national task force on land to review the current land situation in Amerindian areas and construct consensus proposals on actions required and changes need to laws, policies and current government initiatives, including the Amerindian Land Titling Project.
To read the report please click here (PDF)
Individual sections are also available to download here.
Butt Colson, A (2013) Dug out, dried out or flooded out? Hydro power and mining threats to the indigenous peoples of the Upper Mazaruni district, Guyana. FPIC: Free, Prior, Informed Consent? Survival International, London
Colchester, M and La Rose, J (2010) Colchester, M and La Rose, J (2010) Our Land, our Future: Promoting Indigenous Participation and Rights in Mining, Climate Change and other Natural Resource Decision-making in Guyana, Final report of the APA/FPP/NSI project on ‘Exploring Indigenous Perspective on Consultation and Engagement within the Mining Sector in Latin America and the Caribbean: Phase II: Toward Community Strengthening, Dialogue and Policy Change’. Amerindian Peoples Association, Georgetown, Guyana, May 2010
Griffiths, T and Anselmo, L (2010) Indigenous peoples and sustainable livelihoods in Guyana APA-FPP-NSI, Georgetown and Moreton in Marsh
Butt-Colson, A J (2009) Land: its occupation, management, use and conceptualization – the case of the Akawaio and Arekuna of the Upper Mazaruni District, Guyana Last Refuge, Panborough
Griffiths, T (2009) Guyana: indigenous peoples, forests and climate initiatives FPP, Moreton-in-Marsh