IACHR on Isseneru land dispute: Govt reiterates commitment to Indigenous rights, rule of law

Prime Minister, Brigadier (Retired) Mark Phillips has assured that the Government fully intended to respond to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which has recommended reparations for the Indigenous village of Isseneru.
The Prime Minister gave this assurance while making a presentation on day one of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Seminar. In his presentation, Phillips made it clear that the Government intended to respond to IACHR by June 20.
“I wish to assure you that with regard to the Isseneru issue, we, unlike what was represented, have until June 20 to respond to the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. A response that we’ve committed to ensure be handed in before the deadline of June 20,” he said.
The Prime Minister also used the opportunity to reiterate the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government’s commitment to not only local law but international law concerning Indigenous rights.
“So, I take this opportunity to assure all present, in person and virtually, that the Government of Guyana, and the parliamentarians that represent the Government, is committed to upholding the rule of law in Guyana and upholding international law,” Phillips said.
The Prime Minister was responding to Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Vincent Henry, who, in a presentation preceding him, raised the issue. Back in April, IACHR, which is an organ of the Organisation of American States (OAS), had ruled for the Government to provide reparations to the Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) village of Isseneru.
Isseneru had approached IACHR, arguing against the granting of mining permits on ancestral lands without prior consultation or consent. This came after rulings from the High Court, which had upheld the granting of the mining concessions.
This exchange between the Prime Minister and MP Henry comes following the recent missive from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD), which wrote the Government of Guyana regarding a longstanding dispute in the Region One (Baraima-Waini) village of Chinese landing.
In the missive, seen by Guyana Times, UN CERD Chair Verene Shepherd stressed the need for the rights of Chinese Landing and the Wapichan Indigenous people to be protected. Shepherd 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’s titled land. However, the village has been up in arms over this approval, which it 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, 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 UN CERD 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.”
Among the UN CERD recommendations was for the Government to consider the suspension or revocation of mining concessions affecting Chinese Landing, until free, prior and informed consent was 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”. (G3)