President of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), Tony James says he is encouraged that countries and institutions involved in forest protection efforts seem to be listening to the concerns of indigenous peoples here.
James, other APA members, representatives from Peruvian non-governmental organisations and a member of the Coordinating Body for Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon Basin, spoke about their concerns on forest protection programmes during a press conference at the Guyana Human Rights Association office yesterday.
The Sixth Meeting of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) Participants Committee (PC6) opened here on Monday and ended yesterday. Guyana is participating in the FCPF, a World Bank fund to pay for protecting forests. The FCPF assists developing countries in their efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) by providing value to standing forests. By creating economic value for tropical forests, the facility seeks to help developing countries generate new revenue for poverty alleviation while maintaining the natural benefits such as fresh water, food and medicines that the forests provide local populations.
In a presentation to PC6, James emphasized that the World Bank must apply rigorous measures to ensure that its policy on Indigenous Peoples and other safeguards are applied in readiness design as well as in implementation. He expressed concern that so far none of the draft Guyana Readiness Preparation Proposals (R-PP) has addressed key gaps relating to its international obligations towards indigenous peoples, including issues raised by the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2006. Additionally, he said, key observations on land rights made by the Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) in 2009 are still not addressed by the R-PP.
“Based on the FCPF’s own R-PP assessment criteria, it is our view that the current Guyana R-PP does not meet the FCPF rules and guidance, particularly in relation to the need to pay special attention in readiness planning for “significant gaps” and “challenges”, including “uncertainties regarding land tenure arrangements”, he said.
He recalled that the APA has called for full recognition of indigenous people’s lands and territorial rights and urged governments and international agencies to protect traditional practices, including rotational farming and help resolve outstanding land issues. “We have asked that these critical matters be put on the table as a priority issue in REDD readiness. We look forward to seeing how these have been taken up in the latest version of the Guyana R-PP”. He added that Guyana’s national legal framework does not protect indigenous peoples’ rights in relation to untitled traditional lands, in direct contravention of the country’s international obligations. James said this matter is not addressed in the Guyana R-PP and they have no information yet on how the World Bank plans to deal with “this major gap in readiness planning”.
“If climate initiatives like this FCPF are to be sustainable and credible, it is essential that they listen to our concerns and act on the recommendations of indigenous peoples. We therefore urge the FCPF to put in place stringent measures to ensure that the recommendations and concerns of peoples who depend on forests are incorporated into R-PP plans”, he said.
At yesterday’s press conference, the issue of the nature and scope of consultations done by government was again raised. David Wilson, toshao of Akawini in Region Two said that despite these being praised by the government; the sessions were more “information-sharing” than consultations. He cited the technical nature of documents and the short time provided for residents to study them. “For us consultations had never took place”, he said. He said villagers are not aware of the positive or negative implications of the strategies and they want to learn the depths of these and how it will impact their lives. He recommended that the documents be simplified. He said government cannot expect them to look at the documents for two hours and then make whole-hearted contributions.
John Andries, the toshao of Paruima village spoke on land rights and mining issues and expressed concern that documents were saying that things were happening and villagers knew nothing of them. He cited demarcation saying there were documents that said villages were demarcated but the villagers knew nothing of this such as when it had happened. He said that villages were facing major problems in relation to this. He said the issue of traditional lands is still to be addressed. He gave specific examples of villages where problems are being encountered in relation to land issues. He said if they can work together, problems can be minimized. It was also stated that the authorities do not know what is happening on the ground.
James, meanwhile noted that last Saturday, the Guyana Forestry Commission and the National Toshaos Council announced that they will begin utilizing the US$200 000 grant. He said they want to be included. In response to questions, he said that the APA has not sat on the Multi Stakeholder Steering Committee because up to now they have not been given the Terms of Reference. He said the APA executive has met twice on the issue and they do not want to be seen as automatically agreeing by sitting on the committee.
The two toshaos present also noted that the National Toshaos Council Chairperson, Yvonne Pearson used her position to speak on their behalf, without the toshaos knowledge. They pointed out that all the toshaos on the NTC meet only once every three years while the executive meets quarterly.
The APA has been engaging with countries like Norway and institutions like the World Bank which are working with Guyana, and asked whether he is encouraged that these entities are taking indigenous peoples concerns on board, James said yes. He said that the World Bank is worried that the process will not move forward without the support of the indigenous peoples. “I think they have been listening”, he said.
Meantime, the Peruvian representatives also spoke of their experiences, saying they also have problems with indigenous rights being violated. After protests over consultations in Peru last during which 26 people were killed, indigenous peoples are in the process of establishing better relations with the government of President Alan Garcia but there is still a long way to go, Daysi Zapata from Peru representing the non-governmental organisation, Asociacion Interetnica de Desarollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP), said.
Peru and Guyana and others countries in the Amazon Basin including Suriname, Colombia, and Bolivia are all in various stages of discussion to engage in programmes for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, known as REDD.