Treatment of Amerindian people by the general population and by authorities; availability of state protection (2000-2004) [GUY42344.E]

In 2000, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations presented its comments on a report submitted by the government of Guyana, and included the following statement among its observations:

The Committee regrets the delay by the State party in amending the Amerindian Act, and is concerned that members of the indigenous Amerindian minority do not enjoy fully the right to equality before the law. It is particularly concerned that the right of Amerindians to enjoy their own culture is threatened by logging, mining and delays in the demarcation of their traditional lands, that in some cases insufficient land is demarcated to enable them to pursue their traditional economic activities and that there appears to be no effective means to enable members of Amerindian communities to enforce their rights under article 27.
The State party should ensure that there are effective measures of protection to enable members of indigenous Amerindian communities to participate in decisions which affect them and to enforce their right to enjoy their rights under the Covenant (UNHRC 25 Apr. 2000, Sec. 21).

Information on the situation of Amerindian people in Guyana can be found in Country Reports 2002, available electronically and at Regional Documentation Centres. Country Reports describes the general situation of the nine tribal groups of Guyana, noting that most live in remote villages and reservations (Mar. 2003, Sec. 5). These communities have a lower standard of living, including limited access to education and health care (ibid.). Country Reports 2002 reiterates the UNHRC concerns, providing no indication that these issues had been satisfactorily addressed (ibid.).

Demarcation of communities' properties by the national government has met local opposition, and the concerns raised in some cases had not been addressed for some years (ibid.). Country Reports 2002 states that Amerindian communities are subject to colonial-era legislation in the form of the Amerindian Act, although some its most restrictive provisions were not enforced (ibid.). However, a detailed explanation of the application of Amerindian Act provisions could not be found among the sources consulted.

A recent study of income and labour discrimination in seven countries which included Guyana, showed that "indigenous males earn salaries 35 to 65 percent lower than non-indigenous people" (Latinamerica Press 19 Nov. 2003). Indigenous people in the studied countries were also reported to suffer from labour discrimination (ibid.).

In 2003 a National Toshaos Council (NTC) representing Amerindians of Guyana was established, having among its goals to help resolve disputes and promote the development of indigenous communities, beginning with training and education for Toshaos and village councillors (Latinamerica Press 18 June 2003). Toshaos are tribal captains, or leaders of indigenous communities in Guyana (FPP 21 July 1999).

The Guyanese daily Stabroek News later reported that, according to the opposition People's National Congress Reform (PNCR) Party, the government of Guyana had made "efforts...to discourage" the formation of the independent Toshaos Council (Stabroek News 5 Sept. 2003). The PNCR also accused the government of establishing community development councils managed by "hand-picked" personnel, over the existing captains and councils in Guyana's more than 120 Amerindian communities, to control "distribution of food and other items earmarked for these communities" (ibid.). However, the Government Information Agency of Guyana (GINA) reported the government "fully support" [sic] the NTC upon its creation (GINA 31 May 2003). GINA noted that concerns were raised over the NTC's centralization in Georgetown; the Minister of Amerindian Affairs reportedly described as "too ambitious" the election of NTC members during the three-day National Toshaos Conference that saw the NTC created, noting that the Amerindian communities and village councils ought to have time to consider who their representatives at the NTC would be (ibid.).

During the same conference that saw the creation of the NTC, Toshaos reported on various problems affecting their communities; chief among them were security in border areas, the impact of mining and pollution in their territories, and the impact of a proposed National Protected Areas System (ibid. 2 June 2003). The president of the National Amerindian Development Foundation (NADF) reported that his 2001 request to create a security force involving residents in border areas had not been received favourably; while some Toshaos reported problems caused by miners (ibid.). GINA indicated that "Amerindians are mainly engaged in subsistence activities like fishing, farming and hunting"; thus, the establishment of natural protected areas where subsistence activities could be restricted was a "matter [that] has to be dealt with very delicately" (ibid.).

An increase in abuse against indigenous women had been reported in 2002: the program administrator of the Amerindian Peoples' Association of Guyana stated that indigenous women in communities near mines were particularly affected, adding that these women "lack access to legal advice and...police often fail to prosecute abuse cases" (Latinamerica Press 4 Nov. 2002).

The treatment or situation of specific Amerindian groups, areas or communities was not undertaken for the purposes and within the constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

References


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002. March 2003. "Guyana." Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/ 18334.htm [Accessed 21 Jan. 2004]

Forest Peoples Program (FPP), Moreton-in-Marsh, England. 21 July 1999. "Guyana's Commission States Indigenous Peoples Make Some Progress." http://forests.org/archive/samerica/ guymakep.htm [Accessed 26 Jan. 2004]

Government Information Agency (GINA), Georgetown. 2 June 2003. "NPAS Comes Under Scrutiny." http://www.gina.gov.gy/archive/daily/b030602.html [Accessed 23 Jan. 2004]

_____. 31 May 2003. "National Toshaos Converence Opens - Aims to Set Up NTC." http://www.gina.gov.gy/archive/releases/pr030531.2.html [Accessed 23 Jan. 2004]

Latinamerica Press [Lima]. 19 November 2003. Vol. 35, No. 23. "Latin America: The Most Excluded of the Excluded." http://www.latinamericapress.org/main.asp [Accessed 19 Nov. 2003]

_____. 18 June 2003. Vol. 35, No. 12. "Guyana: Indigenous Council." http://www.latinamericapress.org/main.asp [Accessed 20 June 2003]

_____. 4 November 2002. Vol. 34, No. 22. "Guyana: Increase in Abuse." http://www.latinamericapress.org/main.asp [Accessed 4 Nov. 2002]

Stabroek News [Georgetown]. 5 September 2003. "Stop Undermining Authority of Amerindian Leaders, PNCR Tells Government." http://www.stabroeknews.com [Accessed 5 Sept. 2003]

United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC). 25 April 2000. "Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee : Guyana." (CCPR/C/79/Add.121) http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/CCPR.C.79.Add.121.En?Opendocument [Accessed 21 Jan. 2004]