Statement to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Thirteenth Session

Joint Statement presented by Laura George to the 13th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Thirteenth Session

New York, 12 – 23 May, 2014

 

Agenda Item 9

 

Future Work: (Thursday, 22nd May, 2014)

Joint Statement on the Future Work of the Permanent Forum

Presented by Laura George of the Amerindian Peoples Association as a joint statement with the Forest Peoples Programme, The Rainforest Foundation US and the Organisation of Kalina and Lokono Indigenous in Marowijne.

 

Madam Chair, 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. My own government 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 FPIC. I now present some of the experiences of our peoples and how there is still an urgent need to work for the full implementation of UNDRIP.

In the twenty first century, indigenous peoples in Guyana continue to be subjected to the paternalistic governance practices of the government. 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 vulnerability 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 was made evident by an audio recording, recently publicized by independent media, of a senior official of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs telling our youth and leaders to stay away from a particular representative body and the political parties of the opposition. 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 in this meeting made no opposing intervention.

This now brings me to highlight that there is heavy pressure on our leaders to endorse government programmes and decisions which have been designed 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 of these 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 programmme 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 Permanent 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 investigation on the situation of the indigenous peoples in our country.

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.

Thank you.