In two newly released reports, indigenous leaders point out that the current concession allocations system in Guyana is unjust, severely flawed and facilitated by a national legal framework that does not fully respect their internationally protected rights to their customary lands and resources.
“The foreign companies come and they have legal rights and we the people who have been living here all the time do not have legal rights.” [Resident, Kwebanna village]
One of the reports summarises views collected by the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) in a series of community workshops carried out in 2014 and 2015 as a part of an EU and UK Aid-funded project: “Promoting the effective participation of indigenous peoples in the FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement process in Guyana”.
The first report emphasises how the forest is an integral part of indigenous peoples' culture, livelihood and way of life – it is central to their physical, psychological, economic and spiritual wellbeing. Without the forest, their very futures are in jeopardy:
"We cannot live without the forest. Without it we cannot exist.” [Resident, Barabina village].
“The forest gives us fresh air and we depend on it for everything we need - for our livelihood, hunting, fishing and medicine.“ [Resident Bethany village]
The second report captures the proceedings of a seminar organised by the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) under the same project to discuss the concept of ‘legality’ in the FLEGT VPA. The event, held in Georgetown at the start of 2015, brought together representatives from government, civil society, indigenous communities and legal experts with the aim of enhancing national capacity to construct a robust Legality Assurance System built on principles of participation, transparency and human rights.
International human rights lawyer, Anouska Perram of the Forest Peoples Programme, recommended in her presentation to the seminar that in order to create lasting legal certainty around the VPA process, it is essential to improve the coherence and consistency between customary, national and international law.
Both reports present a number of community recommendations for the Guyana FLEGT VPA, including that all disputes involving indigenous peoples’ customary lands must be resolved according to the internationally protected rights of indigenous peoples to their lands and resources before the VPA is signed. Community representatives urge that no forest concession be allocated fully or partly on customary land of an Amerindian community, whether titled or untitled, without the free prior and informed consent of the community and without a benefit sharing agreement between the concession holder and the community.
Other recommendations relate to the importance of ensuring full and effective participation for indigenous peoples in the VPA process and generally in the development of national laws, policies, systems and initiatives that may affect them. To allow sufficient time for the above recommendations to be met, indigenous representatives call for the timeline in the VPA roadmap to be extended.