A judge in Guyana’s high court has ruled that indigenous groups do not have the right to expel legal miners from their land. The judge, Diana Insanally, found that if the miners in question held a government-approved license than the local community had no right to dispute the mining. The ruling has sparked protests by indigenous groups and is expected to be appealed.
“We are deeply disappointed and worried with this ruling and what it means to our village and to Amerindian communities in general. On the ground it has serious environmental and social impacts for us. The miners have, for example, brought with them problems related to drugs and prostitution,” reads a press release from the indigenous community Isseneru.
The controversial ruling came after gold miner, Joan Chang, took the the community of Isseneru to court for disputing her mining claim on their titled land. Isseneru village is located deep in western Guyana’s Amazonian interior. More than 75 percent of the country is still under forest cover, however mining, particularly gold mining, has been seen as a rising threat in recent years.
The recent ruling also opens up old wounds over just how much rights indigenous people have over their traditional lands.
“We feel that when the High Court tells us that we have no rights to decide and control what takes place on our land, then the land is not ours […] Just Friday, when inquiring at the office of the GGMC [Guyana Geology and Mines Commission], we learnt that our whole land is covered with mining concessions. Yet, the government has not informed us about this,” the Isseneru community writes.
Last Friday, 80 indigenous people protested the high court ruling outside the Office of the President.
“If this ruling goes forward then it will be a huge step backwards and will threaten indigenous peoples’ rights to land and to self-determination throughout the country,” says Jean La Rose, Programme Administrator at the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA).