The Amerindian Act is in need of amendment

Dear Editor,

It is understood that a Plain English Course to the Amerindian Act is in the making. It is also understood that the Community Development Officers (CDOs) will be going out into indigenous villages and communities to help indigenous peoples to understand the Amerindian Act better. However, it must again be pointed out that the act as it stands is in very serious and urgent need of further amendment. Therefore, it is very encouraging to know that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) recognizes this also. This is true in particular with regard to Articles 15, 16, and 19 of the concluding observations of the committee; these concluding observations are followed by a number of recommendations.

CERD has the following to say:

“(15) The committee notes with deep concern, that under the Amerindian Act (2006) decisions taken by village councils of indigenous communities concerning, inter alia, scientific research and large scale mining on their lands, as well as taxation are subject to gazetting by the competent minister, and that indigenous communities without any land titles (‘untitled communities’) are not entitled to a village council. (Art. 5 (C)

“(16) The Committee is deeply concerned about the lack of legal recognition of the rights of ownership and possession of indigenous communities over the lands which they traditionally occupy and about the state party’s practice of granting land titles excluding bodies of water and sub-soil resources to indigenous communities on the basis of numerical and other criteria not necessarily in accordance with the traditions of indigenous communities concerned, thereby depriving untitled and ineligible communities of rights to lands they traditionally occupied. (Art. 5 (C) (v)…

“(19) The Committee is deeply concerned that, despite the State party’s efforts mentioned in the paragraph above, the average life expectancy among indigenous peoples is low, and that they are reportedly disproportionately affected by malaria and environmental pollution, in particular mercury and bacterial contamination of rivers caused by mining activities in areas inhabited by indigenous peoples. Art. 5 (e) (iv)…

“(28) Pursuant to Articles 9, paragraph 1, of the Convention, and Articles 65 of the procedure, as amended, the Committee requests that the State party inform it of its implementation of the recommendations contained in paragraphs 15, 16 and 19 above, within one year of the adoption of the present conclusions.

“The committee recommends to the State party that it submit its fifteenth and sixteenth periodic reports into a single report, due on 17 March 2008.”

It is recognised that the present Amerindian Act is not a very good one. As a result many are not happy about the act. It is therefore recommended that steps to have the present Amerindian Act further and properly amended would be very welcome and a step in the right direction. The CDOs would then hopefully have a shared responsibility and this would be a step in the right direction. The CDOs and hopefully others would then have something fairer and just to go forth and teach. The present act says that lands are vested in the council, not in the biased CDOs and Regional Democratic Councils. And rightly so, knowing that these two government representative groups are much too partisan and political to have lands vested in them. It is recognised that persons in these two groupings are, as in former times, subtly interfering in village council matters in indigenous communities. Most naturally the end result is that indigenous village councils are becoming more and more rubber-stamp like both in name and structure.

All in the interest of fairness, peace and justice.

Yours faithfully,
Penny Atkinson

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