The boundaries of the protected Kaieteur National Park must be clearly marked and the policies, governing the area, reviewed to ensure the human rights of the Indigenous peoples are protected, the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) said.
Governance and Rights Coordinator at the APA, Laura George, said that while Guyana has been on the forefront of fighting climate change, it should also be aware of the human rights factor.
“The UN Special Repertoire on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have come out in a very clear report that all conservation programmes must institute or use a human rights-based approach. The Kaieteur National Park, as we are aware, is the territory of the Patamona people and the decisions to have these lands to be declared as protected areas, with extensions…have clearly violated the Indigenous peoples’ rights or the Patamona people. So we would like to call for a revisit of these policies so the Indigenous people who depend on these lands have their rights respected and they are not criminalised trying to make a living or trying to earn a livelihood,” George said.
George’s call came after 21 persons from Chenapau Village, Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni) were arrested and charged for allegedly mining in the Kaieteur National Park. A charge they all vehemently denied, noting that they were all legally mining in the area and had documentation to prove it.
The charges were later dropped, in what President David Granger described as an act of kindness but that still did not douse the call by the miners to have the boundaries of the Park clearly marked. The miners also chastised the Government; the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Guyana Police Force for the inhumane treatment meted out to them. The miners were forced to sit for almost 48 hours at the CID Headquarters, Eve Leary without being afforded a bath or proper food, which they note was a clear violation of their human rights.
Another APA representative, Michael Mc Garrell, said that the KNP Management Plans do not have any provision for the residents of Chenapau or Indigenous people in general. “I think one of the things that need to be highlighted is that the Chenapau people have not been really benefiting from the Kaieteur National Park and I think that there needs to be some serious discussions in terms of how we move forward. How do we move forward as a people, how do we move forward as a country in terms of how do we move forward in terms of we manage the Kaieteur National Park,” he said.
Mc Garrell explained that Kaieteur was traditionally a sacred place to the Patamona people with the word originating from their native language. “It is important for us to recognise these are our traditional lands and we should be allowed to continue our customary practices in those areas, we should not be hindered from passing through because it is our land,” he added.
The Kaieteur National Park is the oldest and most iconic Protected Area of Guyana and was established in 1929. It spans some 62,680 hectares and is especially renowned for the Kaieteur Falls dubbed one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world. The Kaieteur Falls are 226 metres high (five times higher than the Niagara Falls) – the longest single drop falls in the world and about 122 metres wide during the rainy season. The falls are one of the favourite Guyanese destinations for tourists, with about 3100 visitors annually.