The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) is urging the authorities to support the efforts of Deep South Rupununi Amerindian leaders and others there to end conflict over the use of mechanical crushers by indigenous miners at Marudi Mountain, South Rupununi.
Canadian mining company Mulgravian Ventures (Guyana) Inc. (MVGI) has the legal rights to the land at Marudi but an informal understanding has seen locals mining in parts of the MVGI concession. However, the recent introduction of mechanical crushers which locals see as a safer alternative to tunnels in the mountains has met with objections by the company and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) has moved to shut down the operations of the crushers and have them moved out of the concession.
Subsequent to the release of the GHRA statement on Saturday, two miners including Clifton Rodrigues, the chairman of the Marudi Miners Committee died in a tunnel collapse on Sunday. Twenty-one-year-old Leon Mootoo also died in the incident.
In a statement, the GHRA said that it is fully supportive of the initiative by the South and South Central District Toshaos Committee and the Marudi Miners’ Committee to seek a negotiated solution to the crisis created over the use of mechanical crushers by Amerindian miners on Marudi Mountain. The organization congratulated both organizations on the restraint exercised to date. It also urged the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs (MOAA) and the relevant departments of the GGMC to actively support their search for a peaceful resolution of the issue.
The human rights body noted that the Toshaos’ Council issued written invitations to the MOAA, the GGMC and to the Romanex and Mulgravian companies to attend a meeting to be held in Aishalton to address the use of mechanical crushers. “What response was made to the letters is unclear. However, whether or not that particular meeting takes place, the importance of positive and prompt support from the authorities for reasoned and peaceful resolution of disputes in mining areas is imperative. This is particularly the case in matters affecting livelihoods, which are prone to quickly deteriorate into retaliatory behaviour if not addressed in a timely manner, as distinct, for example, from land title or extension issues,” the GHRA said.
The statement asserted that a meeting of the kind called for by the indigenous leaders is urgently required to establish the facts of the matter as a basis for taking a position on the substance of the dispute, namely the suspension of the use by Amerindian miners of mechanical crushers by GGMC following a complaint by the Mulgravian company.
“Mechanical crushing replaces stone-age methods of breaking rock with hammers and greatly increases miners’ productivity. At the same time the greater volume of tailings generated raises environmental concerns which cannot be ignored,” the GHRA said while adding that its concern at this point is less with substance than with process, focusing on the lack of governance procedures and mechanisms at local and district levels for resolving issues.
“The dispute highlights the fact that the informal understanding which governs the miners’ presence on the Marudi (Mountain) is unsatisfactory and always vulnerable to these periodic break-downs. A coming together of all relevant parties as proposed by the Toshaos might serve as the first step in the direction of a more formal agreement which respects both the companies’ legal rights to control their claim and the villagers customary rights to earn a livelihood,” the statement said.
The GHRA asserted that the fraught relations between the Marudi miners and the mining company reflect the general absence of effective localized governance mechanisms for resolving disputes in mining districts. “The range and importance of such disputes is reflected in the list of issues generated at an important community meeting held in July in Maruranawa and later incorporated into the letter to the (MOAA). All of these issues point to the urgency of developing community- and regional-based political mechanisms empowered to address and resolve issues generated by mining activity,” the human rights body said.
The statement pointed out that communities have no effective voice either in addressing current issues such as pollution of water sources and the social stress that mining has brought to communities in the form of alcohol and drug use and trafficking, nor in the longer term legal issues regarding title extensions. “The concept of Amerindian right to benefit from mining activities for example, is recognized in theory, by the requirement of 20% royalty payments to the Amerindian communities in which mining takes place, but no clear and accountable procedures exist to allow local communities (or mining interests) to influence the use and disbursement of these payments,” the GHRA said.
The human rights body declared that highly centralized systems of decision-making over entirely local issues are inappropriate and aggravate rather than resolve disputes, be they environmental, livelihood, social or political. “Rather than prolong centralized control, the GHRA would urge the (MOAA) and GGMC to encourage experiments and initiatives which allow decisions to be taken at appropriate levels between mining entities and representative Toshaos’ bodies across the mining sector. The role of the Ministry and centralized bodies would better ensure such initiatives are governed by principles of corporate social responsibility on the one hand and clear understanding of Amerindian livelihood rights on the other, rather than taking on the decision-making function itself,” the GHRA urged.
It said that the central and national authorities could more usefully encourage decision-making at appropriate levels, promote relevant principles, develop capacity to understand and resolve disputes and to monitor respect for and implementation of agreed decisions by all parties.
“As the gold industry moves into the phase of hard-rock mining, the potential for confrontation and disruption between communities and companies will rapidly increase. In equal measure the need for local capacity to resolve and mitigate contentious issues across the mining sector must also expand at an accelerated rate. For these reasons, the initiative taken by the South Central Toshaos should be supported constructively by all involved,” the GHRA asserted.
Days before he died, Rodrigues, as President of the Marudi Miners Committee had written to Amerindian Affairs Minister, Pauline Sukhai seeking a meeting to discuss the concerns of the Marudi miners.
His July 28 letter said that “We endeavour to bring to the fore our concerns and hope that we can count on your Ministry’s assistance in interfacing and reaching a solution to our issues”. It is unclear if there was any development out of this letter.