The forested interior of Suriname is home to Amazonian Indians and so-called Maroons, descendants of escaped African slaves who recreated societies in Suriname’s hinterland in the 17th and 18th centuries. These peoples have long complained that they suffer persistent and pervasive racial discrimination that is particularly evident in the government’s failure to recognize their rights to their ancestral lands, which have instead been parcelled out to loggers, miners and as protected areas. Last week, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination agreed with them for a second time in a year.
It is often stated that attention to and respect for indigenous peoples’ rights in connection with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is barred by the principle of state sovereignty. This assertion is incorrect in light of contemporary international law. State sovereignty does not and cannot preclude attention to and respect for indigenous peoples’ internationally guaranteed rights.