FOREST PEOPLES PROGRAMME, Information Update 26 April 1997


Suriname once again demonstrates disregard for the rights and well being of Indigenous peoples and Maroons and the environment. On 12 March 1997, the Government of Suriname announced that it would begin registering illegal Brazilian small-scale gold miners and issuing them permits to work in Suriname for a fee of USD200.00. The President estimated that approximately USD15,000.00 would be deposited by the garimpeiros in the Central Bank due to this programme. In fact, in the next three days approximately USD100,000.00 was deposited. Although this sum did not exclusively come from illegal Brazilians - a fee of USD50.00 was charged to illegal Surinamese and other miners - this sum represents an estimated 400-450 garimpeiros now licensed to work in Suriname. This number is expected to rise dramatically in the near future as Brazilian miners head for Suriname where they are able to work without being harassed by the army and others in Brazil, French Guiana and Guyana.

The rationale behind registering and licensing small-scale miners is that Suriname is incapable of monitoring and controlling their activities and, therefore, the State should at least try to make some money from their activities. What has been left out of the discussion, however, is that mining activities take place exclusively in the ancestral lands and territories of Indigenous peoples and Maroons in the forested interior of the country and that they will suffer the consequences of increasing numbers of small-scale miners. Ample evidence exists that attests to the devastation of Indigenous and Tribal cultures and communities caused by small-scale miners. Diseases, malnutrition, environmental degradation, violence, increased alcoholism, prostitution and a break down in traditional authority and the fabric of community life, among others, are all associated with the occupation of Indigenous and Tribal lands by small-scale miners. In some areas of the Guiana Shield, rivers have become so devastated and polluted by small-scale miners that it is no longer possible to fish in them or even maneuver a small canoe down them.

Paramacca Maroon communities on the border with French Guiana have already complained of serious problems with garimpeiro operation's in their hunting and agricultural lands. They report that a large group of garimpeiros accompanied by armed guards have burned down camps used by local communities and destroyed some of their agricultural plots. They say that the communities are ready to fight with the garimpeiros, but will hold a meeting first in order to decide the best approach for addressing the problem. This community also has a problem with Parastatal mining company, Grassalco, which was granted a concession on their land with out informing or consulting with them, despite a promise from the former President of Suriname to the traditional leader of the Paramacca people, Granman Levie, that no concessions would be granted without his permission. Indigenous communities in central Suriname have also reported malaria, where none existed before, related to the arrival of garimpeiros.

As with decisions related to industrial mining, which is also increasing in Suriname, Indigenous peoples and Maroons were not consulted about the decision to license illegal miners. International human rights standards on the rights of Indigenous and Tribal peoples require, at a minimum, that Indigenous peoples be consulted about decisions that may affect their rights and lives. This is also required under general human rights standards accepted by Suriname.

The problems caused by licensing garimpeiros are further compounded by the fact that Suriname does not legally recognize the land and resource rights of Indigenous peoples and Maroons and maintains that the State is the sole owner of both surface and subsurface land and resources. Also, despite rhetoric about Indigenous rights, the Government appears unwilling to do anything constructive on the subject, especially land rights which it views as tantamount to separatism.

This failure to recognize Indigenous and Maroon rights and an active policy, both in small-scale and industrial mining, of actively violating those rights poses a serious threat to the continued cultural survival and development of Indigenous peoples and Maroons. Suriname also has yet to develop any environmental legislation and monitoring capacity is virtually non-existent. While Suriname has tacitly, if not explicitly, admitted that it is incapable of controlling small-scale miners, making short term profits while acquiescing to the destruction of Indigenous peoples, Maroons and the environment of the rainforest is clearly unacceptable.

For further information, please contact:
Forest Peoples Programme
1c, Fosseway Business Centre,
Stratford Road Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 9NQ
United Kingdom
Tel. 44. 1608. 652. 893. Fax. 44. 1608. 652. 878.