Monday, February 14, 2005

Indigenous Organizations in Guyana Reject Draft Amerindian Act

(Many thanks to Fergus MacKay for circulating this information).

According to an article in Guyana's Stabroek News, on Sunday, February 13, 2005, a range of indigenous organizations in Guyana have rejected a proposed Amerindian Act for failing to grant Amerindians the rights and recognition sought since colonial rule. They are also very concerned that the Minister of Amerindian Affairs will be vested with too many powers. The proposed new laws, these Amerindian organizations argue, will be incompatible both with some local legislation and with some international provisions.

The groups present a joint press conference to protest these new laws included: the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), The Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana (TAAMOG), the National Amerindian Development Foundation (NADF) and the Guyana Organization of Indigenous People (GOIP).

Speaking of the proposed new powers of the Minister of Amerindian Affairs, the combined groups stated at their press conference that, "under the draft Act, the Minister of Amerindian Affairs is vested, in many cases, with arbitrary and draconian powers that are incompatible with indigenous people's self determining status and the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms....In many cases, these powers are also discriminatory in so far as no other minister is able to exercise equivalent powers with regard to non-indigenous persons and there is no justifiable reason why these powers should be exclusively applied to indigenous peoples."

The Amerindian representatives also protested the fact that Section 57 of the draft gives private leaseholders privileges over indigenous peoples and further limits rights indigenous peoples in Guyana currently possess under the Forest Act and the State Lands Act.

The proposed new Amerindian Act also appears to stand in violation of the Constitution of Guyana, specifically: Article 149 (g) which stipulates that the indigenous people will have the right to protection, preservation and promulgation of their languages, cultural heritage and way of life.

Guyana itself is up for review by the UN Committee in the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in the summer of 2005, when such proposed changes to indigenous rights in Guyana could receive some needed critical attention at the international level.

The indigenous representatives concluded by stating: "It is our hope that the changes will be made along the lines that we recommend and [we] strongly urge the government not to adopt the draft in its present form and to enact an Act that truly protects the rights of indigenous peoples of Guyana."

It is also important to note that government consultation with these indigenous bodies has been patchy at best, with failure to coordinate or adequately take into account indigenous proposals.

1 comment:

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