THIS ACTION ALERT REQUIRES IMMEDIATE ACTION
A draft law legalising exploratory leases is scheduled to be before the Guyanese Parliament in the next TWO DAYS! These exploratory leases will allow logging companies to begin development of vast new concessions on an "exploratory" basis on the understanding that they will receive a license to log when the current moratorium is lifted. These leases are therefore postdated logging licenses and are being drawn up with NO consultation or participation. The Guyana Human Rights Association and the Amerindian Peoples Association are requesting international support to protest the extension of state forest lands and the deals with the timber companies.
In the past 5 years Guyana has opened its forests and the ancestral lands of Indigenous peoples at an alarming rate to multinational mining and logging companies. The latest phase of this much criticised policy is the proposed extension of state forest lands to incorporate the Southern third of the country and the signing of Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) for exploratory leases with Malaysian loggers to inventory and, subsequently log the newly opened up areas. The first MOU was signed with Malaysian-Guyanese company, Kwitaro, and the second with the infamous Malaysian company, Berjaya Berhad. At least two other MOUs are to be signed in the near future with Buchanan Forest Products Ltd. of Canada and Solid Timbers Berhad of Malaysia.
Each of these companies will be given rights to 750,000 acres in the newly extended state forest lands, despite the fact that there is no legal basis yet for granting exploratory licenses under Guyanese law. The Government intends to remedy this legal vacuum by pushing through legislation in the coming two weeks legalising exploratory licenses and extending state forest lands to accommodate the areas covered by the MOUs. The price per acre of rainforest and savannah for these exploratory leases is US0.20.
These exploratory licenses are being granted in order to circumvent a 3 year moratorium on new logging concessions that was negotiated between the Government and donor organizations in 1995. Although not technically logging concessions at this point, the exploratory leases clearly violate the spirit and intent of the moratorium. The moratorium was put in place in order to provide time to strengthen the capacity of Guyana's monitoring and administrative capacity with regard to the forestry sector. In other words, it was acknowledged by all concerned that the Government and its Forestry Commission were incapable of monitoring existing logging operations. Although some progress has been made in strengthening institutional monitoring capacity, it remains inadequate and untested, particularly in remote areas like those covered by the exploratory leases. Serious questions about Guyana's ability to monitor the operations of the companies involved are therefore still applicable.
Serious questions have also been raised about whether Guyana has any commitment whatsoever to the environment and Indigenous rights or whether environmental initiatives are being used to placate international donors and criticism while it continues to turn over the majority of the country to multinational loggers and miners. The Guyana Human Rights Association, for instance, points out that while plans have been set in place to develop a National Protected Areas System (NPAS), a Select Parliamentary Committee to review the outdated Amerindian Act has been established and an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been created, in the preceding four years no action has been taken on the NPAS, the Review Committee is defunct and while environmental legislation has been approved, the EPA has not been made fully operational.
Also, the areas targeted for incorporation into the State Forests are some of the most pristine forests in the world, with fauna and flora diversity among the richest in the Americas. Scientific exploration and studies, carried out by Conservation International and the European Community both attest to the bio-diverse richness of this area. Of the 24 recommended Protected Area Schemes only one has been legally designated and no further steps either to demarcate or protect it have been taken. According to inside sources, World Bank staff working on the NPAS project are also alarmed by the granting of the exploratory leases, frustrated by the lack of concrete action by the Guyana Government and are seriously re-evaluating their future role, both as donor and technical staff on the project, and the Government's commitment to Indigenous rights and environmental protection.
On the issue of Indigenous rights no progress has been made and Indigenous peoples in Guyana continue to suffer the full force of the negative social, cultural and health effects on unrestrained resource development. The area covered by the exploratory leases contains lands identified by the Indigenous Macusi people as theirs. These assertions of Indigenous ownership have been ignored and remain unresolved. Also, Indigenous lands in the area have not been demarcated despite repeated calls from Indigenous communities and organizations to do so and other issues related to Indigenous land rights, such as extensions of titled areas and granting titles to those communities without them have yet to be addressed. The Amerindian Peoples Association has also expressed concern about the Wai Wai people who live in the area, who they consider to be extremely vulnerable to external pressures.
The signing of the exploratory leases and the extension of state forest lands was undertaken without consulting affected Indigenous communities. Ignoring the existence of Indigenous communities when granting permission to multinational loggers and miners is a routine practice in Guyana. This is even the case when Indigenous villages themselves are located in logging or mining concessions. Predictably, when Indigenous communities complain they are ignored.
Request for Support
The Guyana Human Rights Association and the Amerindian Peoples Association are calling for concerted action to petition the Government to postpone the passage of the impending legislation before Parliament, namely, the Forest Exploratory Permits Bill 1997, until the following outstanding issues have been resolved:
*outstanding Amerindian land rights issues, such as demarcation, legal recognition for communities without titles and extension of titles for those communities that have requested them; * protected Areas legislation is in place and Protected Areas designated; * review and replacement of the Amerindian Act in accordance with international standards is completed. * the Environmental Protection Agency is operational and monitoring capacity is demonstrable.
Please send polite but firm faxes NOW requesting the Guyana Government to postpone the passage of the Forest Exploratory Permits Bill 1997 until the issues noted above have been resolved.
Please fax letters to:
President Sam Hinds,
Office of the President
Fax No: 592 2 63395
New Garden Street
Please send copies to : GHRA/ APA, Fax No: 592 2 74948; EMail: email@example.com