The land belonging to the indigenous village of Sawariwau in the south Rupununi will be demarcated this year, according to the community’s legal advisors.
“After more than thirty years delay, the land belonging to the Wapichan people of Sawariwau in the south Rupununi region of Guyana, will be demarcated,” the Justice Institute Guyana announced in a press statement on Saturday. The Institute said that it has been providing the people of Sawariwau with legal advice since December 2011.
The statement said that in June, toshao of Sawariwau, Gregory Thomas and deputy toshao Tony Andrew along with Melinda Janki, the executive director of the Justice Institute, met President Donald Ramotar. “They put to him the case for demarcation of the Sawariwau land and explained that they had made repeated attempts over 18 months to get the Minister to deal with their requests. Pauline Sukhai, Minister of Amerindian Affairs has subsequently written to the people of Sawariwau promising to demarcate their land in 2013,” the statement said.
“The President of Guyana is there to serve the people, not make excuses for his ministers. President Ramotar listened carefully to what we had to say and he has acted to protect the interests of this vulnerable Amerindian community. We have to give President Ramotar full credit for his response. People should also respect Guyana for the fact that Amerindian people can speak to the President themselves. They don’t need intermediaries. In how many other countries would an indigenous leader have direct access to the head of State,” the statement quoted Janki as saying.
The Institute said that demarcation of existing titled lands is critical for Amerindian communities. Without it they cannot prove what they already own or make a claim for extensions beyond their currently recognised boundaries. Of 109 Amerindian communities in Guyana, 98 have title to land. Approximately 40 of these communities want extensions. Sawariwau has also made a claim for additional land. Minister Sukhai has written to Sawariwau stating that their claim will be processed under an Amerindian land titling project which is to be funded by the GRIF (Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund), the statement said.
Janki was not happy with the minister’s response. “The Amerindian Act 2006 imposes time limits on the Minister and she has to act whether or not the GRIF money comes through. The Minister simply cannot use delays in the Norwegian funding as an excuse for not addressing Amerindian land issues. It is the government’s responsibility to arrange the country’s finances so that the Ministers can obey the law. That’s just basic respect for the rule of law,” the attorney was quoted as saying.
The Institute said that government had in the past attempted to demarcate Sawariwau’s land. “However, according to the people of Sawariwau, they refused the previous offers of demarcation because they were acting upon the advice of the Amerindian Peoples Association, an advocacy group. Since the Amerindian Act 2006, Village Councils have a legal duty to act in the best interests of their communities and as a result they have to be increasingly careful to obtain proper advice,” the statement said.
It added that the Justice Institute Guyana was established in 2008 to promote respect for the rule of law. The Justice Institute’s work includes helping Amerindian peoples to secure their land and to use the Amerindian Act 2006 effectively.