Joint statement on the future work of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), 22ND May, 2014 Presented by Laura George of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) as a joint statement with the Guyanese Organization of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP), the Forest Peoples Programme, the Rainforest Foundation US and the Organization of Kalina and Lokono Indigenous in Marowijne, Surinam.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak on the issue of the future work needed to be undertaken by the Permanent Forum, member states and representatives of indigenous peoples.
To start, it is a great concern that in the present session of the Permanent Forum, states have seemingly been given priority over indigenous representatives to make their statements. Many states have maintained that all matters concerning indigenous peoples are being addressed.
Guyana’s regime has on two occasions in this forum presented the illusion that the state of Guyana fully respects the rights of indigenous peoples, including the right to Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). The following is a presentation of some of the experiences of our peoples and how there is still an urgent need to work for the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
In the twenty-first century, indigenous peoples in Guyana continue to be subjected to the Georgetown regime’s paternalistic practices. When it comes to electoral campaigns, our peoples have for decades been treated like commodities in order for political parties to garner votes. Successive administrations have taken advantage of the vulnerabilities of the indigenous peoples. Our lack of access to updated independent information has been used to the maximum to lie, mislead, confuse and divide our people.
The time is long overdue, Madam Chair, for our peoples to be treated as equals. Self- determination must be fully respected and must not be manipulated by an ‘elected dictatorship’, as is currently the case.
Our peoples’ rights to free association with representative bodies are being curtailed by the current administration. This, for example was made evident by an audio recording, recently publicized by independent media, of a senior official of the Amerindian Affairs Ministry directing our youth and leaders on who they should associate with and where their support should go. This official further expressed that if orders are not followed, the youth and leaders would have no access to his office in the future. What is even more alarming is that the ministers and the chair of the elected indigenous leaders present at this meeting made no opposing intervention.
This now brings us to highlight that there is heavy pressure to endorse government programmes and decisions which have been designed and made without the input of our peoples and made without the input of our peoples and which are presented to us as ‘development’. Our own understanding of development is closely connected with our lands, territories and resources, yet our calls for full recognition are not being heard. Our leaders and communities are being taken to court for daring to protect our lands, resources and our waters. Currently, our titled lands are quite different from the lands we know to be ours and that are guaranteed by UNDRIP and other international standards.
Madam Chair, we make the following recommendations:-
The mode of operation of the Permanent Forum must be changed for it to accommodate the great number of experiences, views and recommendations of indigenous peoples to be heard; Indigenous peoples must be enabled to actively and equally participate in the political democratic processes. That means, our people must exercise free choice and be free from coercion, manipulation and intimidation; Our peoples and our indigenous representatives must be allowed to exercise full independence in all decision-making, including the kind of development they would like to have for their communities;
We call for immediate annulment of concessions granted to third parties on our titled and untitled lands which were given without the free, prior and informed consent of our peoples and for the restitution of these said lands; The free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples must be fully respected with regards to extraction of natural resources, infrastructure, conservation, climate finance and any other programme that may be proposed on our titled and untitled customary lands;
We also recommend legislative reform to ensure that provisions in national laws reflect international standards for protection and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples. This would require substantial reform of the Amerindian Act, including a change of its name to the ‘Indigenous Peoples Act’.
We also support the suggested name-change of the Permanent Forum for it to be declared as the ‘United Nations Forum on Indigenous Peoples’; We call on the state of Guyana to extend an invitation to the new Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, to hear from us and to carry out relevant investigations on the situation of Guyana’s First Peoples.
Finally, we demand that states take advantage of this forum to work in collaboration and conjunction with indigenous peoples to genuinely improve the implementation of our rights as they are set out in UNDRIP and other relevant international laws.