Isseneru being victimised over int’l petition for land rights, lawyer says

-after GGMC shuts down village miners

The recent shutting down of eight miners working on Isseneru’s titled land coupled with what appears to be the application of a new mechanism to deal with mining on Amerindian lands has raised alarm among villagers of the Region Seven community, who say that they are being put under pressure for complaining to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) over their land rights.

Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) officials recently stopped the eight miners, who are villagers, from working on Isseneru’s titled land, saying that they had no permission from the agency to mine. Villagers said that they were told that a special mining permit will be needed for mining in Amerindian titled areas but there has been no consultation on this matter.

“They are now being made to pay for [the petition to the IACHR]… the other miners, no one is touching them,” Isseneru’s attorney David James told Stabroek News. He said that in a meeting with Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Persaud last month, the minister bluntly told them that whatever action is being done in Isseneru at the moment is as a result of the petition.

Isseneru last year asked the IACHR to apply measures to uphold its rights over both titled and traditionally-owned lands, in light of concerns about mining claims and what it called the failure of the authorities to protect its rights. Villagers had said that they decided to send the petition to the Commission after they had exhausted all domestic remedies and after they found that the State had failed to offer protection in relation to their basic human rights.

James said that the government had sent teams to the community following the filing of the petition and have acknowledged that these were in response to the petition. Several weeks ago, he said, a team of mines officers visited and shut down the eight miners. He said that in a subsequent meeting with Persaud, the minister said that it was an effort by the government to ensure that all regulations and laws are complied with.

James said that Cease Work Orders were issued to several miners because they reportedly did not have permission from the GGMC to operate. He said that it was “rather strange” as the miners have been applying for and received the necessary privileges and permits they needed from the GGMC to operate. Some of the miners, who are from the community, have been working for years. “It was very strange and rather surprising that, all of a sudden, they did not have permission to work,” the attorney said.

However, GGMC Commissioner Rickford Vieira said that the miners did not have permission to operate from the agency.

Two of the residents who were issued with Cease Work Orders told Stabroek News that they have all their documents and provided these. They noted, however, that in relation to the permission to mine from the GGMC, a number of applications were taken by the village chief to the GGMC in 2012 but they were refused as they were told that the Ministry was working on a mechanism for mining on Amerindian titled lands. One miner said that he took his application himself to the GGMC and they accepted it but he has not heard back from them since. He noted that he still has a copy of his application. They said that the GGMC normally conducts routine checks every month or sometimes every two months and they have never had an issue before. The residents noted that they have gotten the different permits required by the GGMC and mines officers have checked to ensure that they are mining within regulations and they have striven to do so.

James said that the proposal for the special mining permit would see an area on the community’s titled land being identified for mining and the Minister would have to give his approval for mining to take place.

He said that the Ministry is relying on Section 10 of the Mining Act but he is of the opinion that it would require an amendment to the law or new regulations. According to Section 10: “The Minister may by order direct that prospecting or mining for any mineral specified therein shall be carried out throughout Guyana, or in any area specified in the order, only by the Government, by a public corporation, or by a corporate body in which the controlling interest vests in the State or in any agency on behalf of the State.”

James said that while the Village Council is a Corporate Body by virtue of the Amerindian Act, it does not fit within the Section, as he does not think that the State has a controlling interest. “I think Section 19 doesn’t provide for such instances…if you’re trying to include village councils,” he said.

Vieira said that the new mechanism is not from the GGMC. “It is a policy decision from the Minister and the Ministry to deal with the issues,” he said, before adding that the ministry is guiding the GGMC as to how to deal with the mining issues. They want to include Amerindian lands in the overall mining framework, he said.

James said that the mechanism was raised about two years ago and “now it’s being raised again suddenly as a matter of urgency.” He said that there needs to be consultations on the proposal and the villagers need to discuss it and decide the best way forward for themselves. He noted that the miners have been complying with the requirements and they also have the permission of the Village Council to mine, which is provided for in the Amerindian Act and he questioned what the problem is now.

The attorney said that during the meeting with the minister, where members of the Village Council were present, Persaud said that whatever is being done in Isseneru right now is as a result of the petition. “The question is: Why suddenly stop villagers from earning a living?” he said. He noted that in the petition, the villagers had not asked that mining be stopped in its entirety, but rather, mining that they did not agree to on village land. The residents are now being made to pay for their stance while other miners on the community’s titled land are not being touched, he said.

He noted the case of Lalta Narine, who remains mining on the community’s titled land after a court decision in his favour despite his operation not having the approval of the village. A High Court decision last year sparked protests by Isseneru villagers as well as indigenous groups and some Amerindian leaders after the ruling upheld a miner’s right to continue with operations on titled lands within Isseneru. In this case, James said that the government is taking a hands-off approach. He said that river dredging remains a problem.

It is surprising that the villagers have met all the requirements of the GGMC and suddenly they have no permission to mine, he said. He noted that the mechanism that they were told they have to get – the special mining permit- is not even in place and all along, the miners have been working with the acquiescence of the GGMC and have been getting the different permits required, selling to the Gold Board and paying their royalties. Now the mines officers are coming and saying that they do not have permission to work “there is a contradiction there,” James said.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimi-nation of Racial Discrimi-nation (UNCERD) has expressed concern over mining on titled land at Isseneru and another Amerindian community, Kako, and asked government to provide information on the cases as well as to review the granting of permits and concessions without obtaining the prior and informed consent of the affected indigenous communities.

Isseneru, an Akawaio indigenous community located along the Mazaruni River in Region Seven and non-governmental organisation the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) submitted a Petition for Precautionary Measures to the IACHR on August 26 last year. Among other things, the Petition is seeking the Commission’s assistance “to reverse and repair the acts and omissions of Guyana that violate the rights of Isseneru and to ensure that its rights are recognised, secured and respected in the future.”

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