Amerindian Rights centre launched

Stabroek News
March 27, 2000

The Centre for Amerindian Rights and Environmental Law, established to address the needs of the Amerindian community and to focus on the legal aspects of environmental protection, was launched on Friday evening.

"The centre will build on work that is already in progress involving the [Amerindian] communities, the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) and the various advisers to the communities," Director of the centre, Melinda Janki, told a gathering at Cara Lodge which included Prime Minister Samuel Hinds and members of the diplomatic community.

Janki stated that the centre had already been working closely with Hinds on mining issues concerning the Upper Mazaruni area. A lawyer by profession, Janki expressed appreciation for the Prime Minister's approach to the concerns of the Amerindian people.

She disclosed, too, that President Bharrat Jagdeo had indicated at a recent meeting with the APA, his intention of speaking more regularly and directly with the Amerindian communities.

"We know that direct communication between the Amerindian communities and the President or the Prime Minister moves the issue to a different level and allows us to craft solutions that are in the national interest," Janki stated.

Acknowledging the presence of the representatives of international funding agencies at the launching, Janki noted that various agencies had started projects which had some impact on the Amerindian communities or the environment.

She invited the agencies to meet representatives of the centre to discuss how their policies could be correctly implemented in dealing with the communities.

Janki described the centre as a "non-governmental, independent, non-political" institution. She said two-thirds of the board was Guyanese and the establishment would be run by Guyanese. Initial funding for the centre is being sourced from the Rain Forest Foundation of the United States and a former Federal Appeals Court judge in his private capacity.

The centre would continue to work on broader issues such as land rights and constitutional reform, the director said.

Capacity building workshops had already been held in Regions Seven and Eight which gave the Amerindian people an opportunity to understand their legal rights and how they could be enforced. The centre would continue to work on behalf of the Patamona people to protect their rights pertaining to the ongoing Kaieteur National Park issue where claims had been made by the Amerindian people about infringement of their rights.

Noting that the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency have legal obligations to regulate mining and protect the environment, Jankie said the centre would be willing to offer its support in the discharge of the agencies' responsibilities.

She urged the private sector to accede to the opening of dialogue with the centre to build trust and work together in the national interest.

The centre will provide legal advice to the Amerindian communities in the aspect of conducting business with the private sector so that they could obtain an equitable share of the benefits of any commercial arrangement.

Touchau of Aishalton, Tony James, also a member of the centre's Board of Directors, in brief remarks to the gathering, described the occasion as a historical one.

He said the centre will go a long way in ensuring the voices of the Amerindian people who inhabited Guyana many years ago, are heard.

James said the importance of consultation with the community is finally being recognised. "I return to my people tomorrow and I have good news for them," he stated.

James said there are some factions in society which are not favourable with their recent approach to issues affecting the Amerindian community. "We have been silent for too long. We will work with any authority of the day, but issues affecting us must have our full participation," he stressed.

He said the Amerindian community could contribute meaningfully to the development of the nation, just as any other ethnic group, if given the chance.

The launching was graced with the presence of former president Janet Jagan, US Ambassador James Mack, British High Commissioner Edward Glover and Amerindian Touchaus and residents of Regions Seven, Eight and Nine, among others.