UNHRC statement on Guyana's Amerindian rights record misleading

- De Souza
Stabroek News
April 23, 2000

The Minister of Amerindian Affairs has strongly disagreed with the statement by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), which appeared in an April 15, Stabroek News story headlined "Guyana not living up to Amerindian Rights Obligations - UNHRC statement".

Minister Vibert De Souza said in a communique made available to Stabroek News on Thursday that the UNHRC statement is "misleading" and "seems to be a deliberate attempt to create confusion among the Amerindian community."

De Souza stated that after examining the published UNHRC statement, he had to posit "very strongly" that never before in the country's history have Amerindians been given the opportunity to be involved and to participate in the development process as at present.

Focusing on the education sector, he observed that training at the premier institution--President's College--and other leading secondary schools and technical training institutions was available for hinterland scholarship students.

Further, he pointed out, as part of the current scholarship programme 228 students are benefiting from training at secondary and tertiary levels, while the ministry is contributing almost 50% of its annual current expenditure to finance the exercise. The government has been in ongoing consultation with regard to the land demarcation exercise and continues to respect the authority vested in villages through the captains and councillors, De Souza noted.

In the land demarcation exercise, according to the minister, the programme is moving apace. In conjunction with the Land and Surveys Department, officers have recorded decisions with captains and councillors that flowed from the demarcation consultations.

He noted that 22 villages have been surveyed and 11 have received their Land Titles in 1997/1998. In addition, 14 villages were identified for the demarcation programme in 1999 and 10 had been completed and these are currently engaging the attention of the Lands and Surveys Department and the Deeds Registry.

De Souza said that for this year 14 villages have been identified for the continued demarcation and this year's consultation exercise will begin shortly, and he called this a signal achievement.

Citing other areas of progress in Amerindian matters, he drew attention to the existence of the Fund for Amerindian Development and noted that culturally, government had dedicated September "Amerindian Heritage Month" and September 10, "Amerindian Heritage Day".

De Souza stated that Amerindian communities now boast "infrastructure par excellence"; new schools, healthcare centres, hostels and training to meet the challenges of development.

He also claimed that village representations are at a peak through constant dialogue with the communities, conferences by Amerindian captains and regular visits by ministers and government officials.

He recalled that last year there were three Amerindian captain conferences and this year another two such conferences are scheduled.

Dealing with developments on the economic front, De Souza said that in the North Rupununi the Micro Credit Scheme implemented by his ministry through IPED and UNDP was offering financial assistance to small farmers to encourage their prosperity.

According to De Souza, "international agencies have recognised government's commitment to Amerindian development so much so that UNICEF is committed to improve health care, education and potable water and sanitation in Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine, with assistance from the Department Fund for International Development (DFID).

He expressed his fervent hope that groups and bodies with good intentions to highlight Amerindian issues would do so in an honest and objective manner.