Chinese Landing land dispute: UNCERD calls for rights of Indigenous people to be protected

– Village Council calls for revision of Amerindian Act

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) has written the Government of Guyana regarding a longstanding dispute in the Region 1 (Barima-Waini) village of Chinese Landing.
In the missive, seen by this publication, UNCERD Chair Verene Shepherd stressed the need for the rights of Chinese Landing and the Wapichan Indigenous people to be protected. They urged that no decisions related to the interests of the Indigenous people be taken without their informed consent.
Back in the 1990s, permission was given by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to a miner to operate within the boundaries of the village titled land. However, the village has been up in arms over this approval, which they said did not have the consent of the Village Council.
When the GGMC had taken steps to issue a Cease Work Order (CWO) to the miner, however, the case had been taken to the High Court, which had ruled in his favour. The High Court decision was subsequently overturned by the Court of Appeal. However, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) reversed this in 2017.
“It is alleged that the judicial decision has precipitated increased unwanted mining activity in the lands lawfully held by the Chinese Landing Indigenous community, which would irreparably damage its traditional way of life and its environment. It is further alleged that the judicial decision has also resulted in an upsurge of a series of incidents of intimidation and assaults on residents of the community, by miners and members of the Guyanese Police Force,” The UNCERD Chair said.
“The Committee has also received additional information related to mining projects on Marudi Mountain and its impact on Wapichan Indigenous peoples. The Committee profoundly regrets the State party’s lack of reply to its letters of 17 May and 14 December 2018, regarding this situation.”
Reference was also made by Shepherd to a 2021 agreement with the company Romanex Guyana, Aurous and the Rupununi Miners Association allowing for the expansion of mining activities at Marudi Mountain. According to Shepherd, this agreement was made without consulting and seeking the consent of the Wapichan Indigenous peoples.
Among the UNCERD recommendations was for the Government to consider the suspension or revocation of mining concessions affecting Chinese Landing, until free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) is granted by the Indigenous people.
They also called on the Government to “refrain from approving projects and granting mining permits or concessions within the lands of Indigenous peoples, whether titled or not, without obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of the affected Indigenous peoples.
A call was also made for the investigation of any incidents of threat and violence against the residents. They also recommended amendments to the Amerindian Act of 2006, with the participation of the Indigenous people and reminded of the need for the Government to reply to the “List of issues” prior to submission of the 15th and 16th periodic reports.
In the wake of the UNCERD missive to the Government, which was dated April 29, the Chinese Landing Village Council also sent a letter in which they alleged they have faced intimidation and physical assaults and called on the Government to rescind the mining licences issued on their lands.
“In the 1990s, the Government sold part of our customary lands to a miner as a concession without consulting us and without our consent. Even worse, those concessions were inside our titled lands. The mining that has been happening on our lands has been destructive and caused numerous environmental, health, and social issues in our community.”
“These recommendations come just a week after we learned that a different international body, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), also issued a decision condemning the Government for failing to respect the rights of Isseneru Village and the rights of all Indigenous peoples in Guyana,” they also wrote.
According to the Council, these recommendations strengthen the calls Indigenous peoples have been making for revision of the Amerindian Act to better protect their rights. Additionally, they expressed support for Isseneru village and other Indigenous communities.
“We call upon the Government to respect these decisions and to act quickly to fulfil its obligations. Specifically, we call for the cancellation of mining concessions granted without FPIC and for full reparations for all villages that have been faced with the same rights violations as Isseneru, including our village of Chinese Landing.”