South Rupununi District Council condemns the flagrant and continued violations of their rights as indigenous peoples

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“We should say ‘no’ to the people who are mining the place and destroying the place. And that is where I grow and I know the place. I am really concerned for my children’s children. I need my forest to remain where it is. Although there is already big damage in Mazoa and Marudi, we must protect what remains.” Godfrey Pauline, Aishalton Village

The South Rupununi District Council (SRDC), the representative institution of the indigenous communities of the South Rupununi, condemns the agreement concluded between the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Romanex, Canadian-owned mining company Aurous, and the Rupununi Miners Association on November 17. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources, the agreement would allow the resumption of small-scale mining operations and mining exploration activities at Marudi Mountain. Although the GGMC is well aware that Marutu Taawa (Marudi Mountain) is a sacred place to the Wapichan people and that the area is subject to a pending application for extension of title by Aishalton Village, the agency made no attempt to ensure that the Aishalton Village Council, surrounding villages and SRDC were involved in decision-making around mining activities on the mountain. The Wapichan people are the traditional owners of the lands in question and those who will be forced to live with the consequences of these decisions long after these miners have departed. Government would have been officially informed about the extent of territorial lands as early as 1965 and this would have been followed up ever since with both collective and individual request for recognition by our communities. Learning of this agreement through the Ministry’s Facebook post, have set a new low standard for meaningful participation in activities that affect Indigenous communities at a time when ardent efforts are being made to fully account for indigenous peoples rights and apply full Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) principles by all when engaging our communities.

Villages of the South Rupununi have witnessed the destruction already wrought by mining in the area and village elders have previously expressed their desire to prevent further environmental and cultural damage.

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“They [the miners] are making the mountains and forest disappear down there and the rivers are all dirty. It is not good. I am worried about the situation and I am thinking about it all the time. It has to stop…” Caroline Winter, Aishalton Village

“Our grandparents did not punish the land, and they respected the mountains. Now those miners are damaging it all and contaminating the waters. They just think about money. If this continues without any control we will all pay the price for the

destruction.” Luisa Laita, Aishalton Village

Toshao Michael of Aishalton, who is also the SRDC Chairperson, in disappointment stated: “how can mining agreements be made without involving people of the South Rupununi, who will be directly affected by mining and its related activities?” This latest action taken by GGMC is just one of many flagrant instances where Amerindian rights and wellbeing is tossed aside in the name of so-called development. It is time that a new approach be adopted by government where indigenous communities’ input be fully incorporated and our rights respected in any development in and around our villages.

The Constitution of Guyana, and international human rights law incorporated therein, protects indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage and way of life, as well as every person’s right to a healthy environment. The Marudi area is not only an important component of Wapichan cultural heritage, it is also critically important for other ecosystems and communities in the country, as four major river systems originate there. The SRDC notes that the Environmental Protection Agency has not yet issued an environmental permit for mining at Marudi, having previously rejected a draft environmental impact assessment report, in part due to the failure to ensure the effective participation of indigenous peoples in that assessment. The SRDC also questions the legality of large-scale mining companies contracting for small-scale mining within their mining license.

The SRDC therefore calls upon the Minister to disavow the agreement and the GGMC to withdraw from the agreement unless and until our rights have been respected and we have consented to such agreement. Most importantly, we implore with the government to once and for all to expeditiously process our claim to our traditional lands.

Minister of Natural Resources Vickram Bharrat had indicated in a meeting with Aishalton village residents in September and December 2020 that the government would “respect the rights of indigenous peoples.” However, the Ministry has since ignored requests, including two in the past month alone, from the SRDC to engage in further consultations relating to mining at Marudi.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has on two separate occasions in 2018 (May and December) called on the Guyanese government to revoke projects on Marudi Mountain to which indigenous peoples did not give their free, prior and informed consent. The Government has yet to comply with these recommendations. The SRDC demands that the Government uphold its Constitutional obligations and immediately cease this flagrant and continued disrespect for the SRDC’s and its constituent indigenous communities’ rights.

Regards
South Rupununi District Council



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