Information Update
2 May 1997

Indigenous Community in Suriname Demands that Mining Companies Leave its Territory

The Indigenous community of Kwamalasemutu in Suriname has demanded for the second time this year that mining companies leave its land and that its rights to own and control those lands be recognized and respected. Kwamalasemutu is a Trio community of approximately 1500 persons located in the far South of the Suriname rainforest near the border with Brazil. The latest cause for complaint involves the granting of a gold and diamond concession to Surinamese company, Margo Mining. The community was not consulted or informed about the decision to grant the concession.

In a letter to the Ministry of Natural Resources, community leaders stated that the Margo Mining concession was totally unacceptable to them and a violation of their rights as Indigenous peoples. They demanded that the concession be revoked and that their ancestral lands be legally recognized and demarcated as soon as possible. Surinamese law does not guarantee Indigenous and Tribal land and resource rights. The Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname (VIDS) also raised the issue with the Government. To date neither community leaders or the VIDS have received any response and the Government seems unwilling to do anything constructive about recognizing Indigenous and Maroon land rights (see, VIDS letter to the President on Land Rights Commission, below).

Margo Mining is receiving funds from the Dutch Government's Ministry for Development Cooperation to conduct Environmental Impact Assesments (EIA) in three of its other concessions in Suriname. According to a joint Dutch-Surinamese Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment, the purpose of this funding is to compile an EIA that will provide Dutch and Surinamese authorities and potential investors "with relevant information on the environmental effects of the [mining] project in order to foster an environmentally sound, socially acceptable, economically feasible and well informed decision making process" (emphasis added) Whether this funding also applies to the concession near Kwamalasemutu is unknown. What is clear, however, is that Margo Mining's operations on Trio land are not socially acceptable to those directly affected by them.

The Dutch Government funded EIA's also require that the issue of "land rights, traditional or otherwise" and the direct and indirect impacts on local communities must be accounted for. This would appear not to be relevant in the case of Kwamalasemutu

Previously, community leaders had written to the Government to complain about the activities of Canadian company, Golden Star Resources (based in Denver, Colorado) and its Surinamese partner, NaNa Resources. NaNa Resources was granted a 200,000 hectare concession, which included the village and a Nature Reserve, after community leaders signed a statement of no objection in 1995. Community leaders claim that they were tricked into signing the letter by Golden Star and NaNa and that they didn't understand its terms or implications. They also claim that when they tried to have the letter and concession canceled, they were refused and intimidated.

Golden Star and NaNa even enlisted the help of former military dictator and present head of the ruling National Democratic Party, Desi Bouterse to silence the community. Bouterse has also been backing Golden Star in disputes with the Maroon community of Nieuw Koffiekamp and Golden Star technicians threatened to bring him to the Indigenous community of Casipora when they complained about Golden Star's presence on their land. The technicians said that if the villagers didn't cooperate they would bring Bouterse, who would put them in line like he had with troublesome Indians in Kwamalasemutu. An investigation conducted by the VIDS in January 1997 found the community's complaints of intimidation and trickery to be valid (see, VIDS Press Release, below).

Golden Star's soil and geochemical samples from the area were not positive. Consequently, they are presently inactive around Kwamalasemutu. Villagers fear that they will return and bring more problems with them. Margo Mining, on the other hand, is active and shows no signs of leaving the area despite community objections to their presence. Community leaders stated in their letter to the Minister that they fear that tensions will escalate into violence if Margo is not required to leave.

PRESS RELEASE (Original in Dutch)
14 January 1997

People of Kwamalasemutu Want Golden Star Resources to Leave their Land and Ask that their Land Rights be Recognized by the Government

A delegation from the Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname (VIDS) went to Kwamalasemutu last week to investigate complaints raised by village leaders concerning the activities of Canadian mining company, Golden Star Resources and Surinamese company, NaNa Resources. They want Golden Star and NaNa to leave their land and they want their land rights recognized by the Government so that they and future generations may live in peace and security. Kwamalasemutu is located in the South of Suriname near the border with Brazil and is one of the largest indigenous villages in Suriname, with approximately 1500-2000 persons from nine tribes. Kwamalasemutu is also located in a gold and diamond concession held by NaNa Resources, that also includes the Sipilawini Nature Reserve. The Nature Reserve is the only place on Earth that the endangered Oko Pipi frog can be found.

The VIDS was asked to investigate by the Head Captain at the Gran Krutu of Indigenous and Maroon peoples held recently in Galibi. Complaints were also raised at the Third Annual Meeting of the VIDS held last year. The VIDS was informed that in November 1995, late Granman Pesife and the Captains of the village had signed a letter to the Ministry of Natural Resources stating that they had no objection to Henk Naarendorp of NaNa Resources obtaining a concession to prospect for gold and diamonds on their land. The leaders had refused to sign the letter, that was written by Naarendorp who stated that he was representing Golden Star, on more than four separate occasions before finally giving in. The village leaders said that Naarendorp had put a lot of pressure on them to sign; that he had used a translator that had misinformed them about the contents of the letter and; that even today over a year later, they still don't fully understand what the letter means.

After signing the letter, Naarendorp allowed Golden Star to work in the concession. Since then, village leaders have had a number of meetings with Golden Star, Naarendorp and NDP Chairman, Bouterse. Each time they said that they don't want Golden Star on their land, that they didn t understand the implications of signing the letter and that they want their land rights recognized. In the last of these meeting, late Granman Pesife was told by Bouterse that Golden Star will work on their land and there will be no more discussion on the subject. International law states that a lack of understanding of the law on the part Indigenous and Maroon peoples may not be taken advantage of by the government, multinationals or anyone else and that any agreements or understandings concluded in this way are void and unenforceable.

Golden Star is not working in the area now, but the people of Kwamalasemutu are afraid that when they return they may be forced to relocate, be denied access to their hunting grounds and agricultural plots and be mistreated by armed security guards and the police just like the people of Nieuw Koffiekamp. They are also afraid that Brazilian gold diggers will invade their land when they discover that Golden Star is working there and that their environment will be destroyed by the garimpeiros or the company. The people say that Golden Star has already polluted the water where they were working and that they have seen deserts where forests used to stand in Brazil and they don't want this to happen to their land.

The VIDS supports the people of Kwamalasemutu in demanding that Golden Star leaves their territory and that their land rights, as defined by international law, be recognized and respected by the Government. The same applies to all other Indigenous and Maroon peoples in Suriname, especially those that find themselves in concessions held by Golden Star, NaNa Resources or any other of the multinationals that are presently invading our ancestral lands. This is especially the case for the Indigenous community of Kawemhakan, also located in a concession held by Golden Star and NaNa Resources, where Golden Star recently announced drilling results at a site called Antino that indicate that there may be commercial quantities of gold in the area. Like the people of Nieuw Koffiekamp, the people of Kawemhakan were not consulted or even informed about the granting of a concession on their land. We once again urge the Government, as did the Gran Krutu held in Galibi, not to give any further concessions until our land and other human rights are fully recognized in the Constitution and other laws of Suriname.

VIDS Letter to the President (Original in Dutch)

TO: President Jules Wijdenbosch, Office of the President of Suriname
Date: 27 January 1997
Re: Commission Land Rights and Indigenous and Maroons

Esteemed President Wijdenbosch:

The Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname would like to make the following statement about the Government's Commission on Land Rights. While we believe that this Commission, chaired by Chas Mejnals, may represent a first step towards the long overdue recognition of our land and other rights by the Suriname Government, we are nonetheless disappointed by the way that it is organized and has conducted its business so far. We are also concerned that this Commission, like the Redan Commission on Land Rights that preceded it, may expire without offering an acceptable and constructive contribution to the recognition of Indigenous and Maroon land rights.

Our criticisms and concerns can be divided into two categories: 1) the basic philosophy of the Commission and; 2) the operating procedures of the Commission.

With regard to philosophy, we are convinced that if the Government of Suriname is serious about recognizing our rights to our ancestral lands that it should first, publicly acknowledge international law on the rights of Indigenous and Maroon peoples, which states, among others, that Indigenous and Tribal peoples have the right to own the lands that they occupy and use and that we have the right to have these lands physically demarcated; second, that we have the right to participate meaningfully in decisions related to the use of our lands; third, that we have the right to determine our own development priorities in accordance with our cultures and traditions and; finally, our right to have our institutions of governance and for the control and management of our land and resources shall be respected and recognized in the law.

After the recognition of these principles of international human rights law, the function of the Lands Rights Commission would then be solely to examine how they are to be implemented in Suriname. These principles are widely accepted by the international community - the United Nations, Organization of American States and the International Labour Organization have all developed international human rights standards that include these rights - and are found in the Constitutions and laws of all countries of the Western Hemisphere and many others all over the World. International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 on the Rights of Indigenous and Maroon peoples includes these principles. The Government promised in the 1992 Peace Accord to begin a national discussion on the treaty, and the present Government promised to implement the Peace Accord. Why has the Government not invited the ILO and Indigenous and Maroons to start this discussion? If the Government of Suriname is to comply with its legal obligations, the Land Rights Commission must accept these principles as the foundation of its work and then proceed with the details of implementation.

With regard to the operating procedures of the Commission, we refer to resolution No. 9 of the Gran Krutu held last November in Galibi, which said:

During the Gran Krutu we were informed by the District Commissioner that a `Commission Domain-Land Indigenous Peoples and Maroons' was installed by the government.

The installation of this Commission by the government, without the participation, or even knowledge of the rightful representatives of the interior, in particular the Highest Authority of the Interior, is unacceptable and again demonstrates a lack of respect for our human rights. Furthermore, it is completely unclear what the purpose, the tasks and the authority of this Commission are. We demand that every discussion or activity, which relates to our land or other rights, takes place with the full participation and consent of the Highest Authority of the Interior.

Our rights may not be discussed without our participation. For the Land Rights Commission to have any credibility and legitimacy, it must include our freely chosen representatives. We ask why are the hearings of the Commission not open to the public and why has the VIDS, an association that includes most of the Indigenous captains from the interior, not been invited to give testimony to this Commission? The Commission says that it intends to go to the interior to consult with Indigenous and Maroon villages. We say that the Government must first accept international standards as the basis for a meaningful dialogue with the interior about land rights.

We also ask why the mandate of this Commission has not been made public? What is the Commission supposed to do? What is its authority? To whom is it to report? How long will it operate? These are questions that we do not know the answers to. We are the caretakers of our lands. We must make sure that the land is safe for our children and their children so that we may give it to them as our ancestors gave it to us. How can we talk to a Commission about our land rights, when we do not know the answers to the questions above.

In conclusion, we ask that the Government and its Land Rights Commission accept international human rights law as the basis for the work of the Commission. We also ask that the Commission proceed no further until it has incorporated the full participation of the freely chosen representatives of the interior and that it publish the mandate and powers of the Commission so that we may know this important information.

For further information please contact:

Forest Peoples Programme
1c, Fosseway Business Centre
Straford Road
GL56 9NQ
Ph. 44.1608.652.893

The Forest Peoples Programme is an affiliate of the World Rainforest Movement.