The Saramaka already know what it means to make way for large- scale mining. In the 1960s, many of them were forced off their original lands by a giant hydro-electric dam and reservoir, constructed to supply power to Suralco - a wholly-owned subsidiary of US-based ALCOA - for smelting bauxite into alumina and aluminium. Of the several thousand moved, some 500 of them were relocated to Nieuw Koffiekamp, the area now coveted by the gold-mining companies.
The Maroons are the descendants of escaped African slaves, who recreated forest-based societies in the interior of Suriname and who fought and won their freedom from the Dutch colonial administration in the 18th century. Treaties signed with the Dutch guaranteed their political and territorial autonomy. Since that time they have been living in the rainforests engaged in traditional subsistence activities and small-scale mining. After the country became independent, both the Maroons and country's Amazonian Indians repeatedly demanded recognition of their land rights in accordance with international law. These pleas have been ignored and instead large areas of their traditional territories have been handed over to logging and mining ventures. The marginalisation of the forest peoples triggered a destructive six-year civil war which was only concluded by treaty in 1992 when the government made (unkept) promises to respect the communities' land rights.
Although Surinamese law does not expressly recognise the land rights of Maroon and indigenous peoples, these rights are recognised in international human rights treaties to which Suriname is a party. However, Golden Star and Cambior refuse to treat the community as a legitimate land-owner and assert that the companies' rights under the 1994 Mineral Agreement with the government override the community's claims. Although the Nieuw Koffiekamp community lies inside the so-called Gros Rosebel concession, about 80 kilometres south of the capital, Paramaribo, the people were not consulted, informed or otherwise notified about the granting of the concession.
Trouble erupted shortly after. In March 1994, an unidentified armed force, calling itself the Surinamese Liberation Front took 26 hostages and held them at the Afobaka dam. One of their most prominent demands was the revocation of the Gros Rosebel concession. The mineral exploration went ahead, however, and a heavily guarded base camp was established one kilometre from Nieuw Koffiekamp.
At the request of Golden Star Resources, thousands of small-scale Maroon miners were forcibly evicted from the concession area, despite valid rights under Maroon customary law for many of them to remain there. Suriname's Minister of Justice even threatened to attack the Maroon miners from the 'ground and the air' if they did not vacate the concession area.
Subsequently, security measures have intensified. Golden Star has erected a number of gates and other devices, including a huge earth wall, to restrict the movements of community members on their lands, even denying them access to their agricultural plots, hunting grounds and religious sites. Both police and company security forces have established a presence and collaborate closely. Indeed the head of Golden Star's security is the commanding officer of the police detachment at Gros Rosebel. He has armed Golden Star security personnel with police issue weapons. A unit of the heavily-armed, elite, anti-terrorist Police Support Group has also been stationed at the site.
The security officers have threatened, harassed and intimidated community members. Twenty-five villagers from nearby Royal Hill, were arrested and expelled from the concession at the end of September 1995 and armed police then began to patrol the area. On a number of different occasions patrols have shot live ammunition at or over the heads of Nieuw Koffiekampers, even those engaged in tending their agricultural plots and gathering forest foods.
Environmental damage has already resulted from the prospecting operations, as swathes of forest have been cut down to make way for augur pits and sampling trenches, fouling water sources. Game and wildlife habitat is depleted and animals driven away due to exploration activities, making hunting and traditional subsistence increasingly difficult.
Once feasibility studies are completed, vast open-pit mines will be dug accompanied by large ponds to process crushed ore with cyanide and hold tailings. Last year, Golden Star and Cambior's similar operation at Omai in Guyana created an environmental disaster when a tailings dam burst releasing a million cubic metres of cyanide- and heavy metal-laced slurry into the rivers.
During 1995, the Organisation of American States was invited in by the Suriname Government to try to broker a tri-partite agreement between the government, the community of Nieuw Koffiekamp and the mining companies. However, the negotiations were inconclusive, a sticking point being the refusal by the government and the companies to treat the Saramaka as legitimate landowners, in line with the 1992 Peace Accord, as the OAS had suggested.
Golden Star and Cambior's activities around Nieuw Koffiekamp and in Guyana were recently condemned for violating fundamental human rights by the World Council of Churches' Consultation on Mining and Indigenous Peoples held in England in May. The meeting noted that the fact that the government of Suriname fails to recognise the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples to own and control their lands and territories 'is not a valid excuse for mining companies to violate these rights'.
The people of Nieuw Koffiekamp have appealed for international support in their struggle with Golden Star and Cambior. Please send polite but firm faxes to the companies stating your opposition to the forced relocation of the community and demanding that they treat Nieuw Koffiekamp as a legitimate landowner with corresponding rights. Stress that land is of fundamental importance to the people's cultural and physical survival.
David K. Fagin Louis P. Gignac Chairman and CEO President Golden Star Resources Cambior Inc. One Northwest Center Montreal 1700 Lincoln Street Quebec Denver, CO. 80203, USA Canada Fax: + 1 303 830 9094 Fax: + 1 514 878 0635Please send copies of your faxes to: Moiwana '86 Human Rights Bureau (Suriname): + 597 424 011
For further information: Forest Peoples Programme, 8 Chapel Row, Chadlington, OX7 3NA, England Tel: 01608 676 691 Fax: + 44 1608 676 743 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org