The forested interior of Suriname is home to Amazonian Indians and so-called Maroons, descendants of escaped 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 and are provided with substandard health care and schools. Their main concern is that the government of Suriname has failed to recognize their rights to their ancestral lands, instead parcelling out their forests, to loggers, miners and as protected areas. On 21 March 2003, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination agreed with them.
The Committee monitors compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a human rights treaty ratified by 165 countries. Suriname ratified it in 1985 and is required to submit reports every four years explaining what it has done to comply with the Convention. Observing the Suriname has failed to submit even one report to the Committee since it ratified the Convention, the Committee issued Decision 3(62), which states that
serious violations of the rights of indigenous communities, particularly the Maroons and the Amerindians, are being committed in Suriname: in addition to discrimination against these communities in respect of employment, education, culture and participation in all sectors of society, particular attention is drawn to the lack of recognition of their rights to the land and its resources, the refusal to consult them about forestry and mining concessions granted to foreign companies and the fact that the mining companies’ activities, especially the dumping of mercury, are a threat to their health and the environment.
The Committee requested “as a matter of urgency” that Suriname submit a report no later that 30 June 2003 and made reference to its General Recommendation No. XXIII on Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 1997, which calls upon countries to “recognize and protect the rights of indigenous peoples to own, develop, control and use their communal lands, territories and resources and, where they have been deprived of their lands and territories traditionally owned or otherwise inhabited or used without their free and informed consent, to take steps to return these lands and territories” and; to “ensure that members of indigenous peoples have equal rights in respect of effective participation in public life and that no decisions directly relating to their rights and interests are taken without their informed consent.”
For further information contact:
Forest Peoples Programme
Tel: + 31-20-419-1746 (Netherlands)