Historic court case begins

December 3, 2007

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An historic land rights case has opened in Guyana’s Supreme Court, lodged by the Akawaio and Arekuna people of the Upper Mazaruni river basin.

The Indigenous communities of the Upper Mazaruni have some land titles, recognised by the government in 1991, but these do not cover the whole extent of their traditional lands. The titles also exclude their rights to bodies of water and sub-soil resources.

According to David James, an Indigenous lawyer representing the communities, this is the first case of its kind in Guyana. The Indigenous people filed the case in 1998, but it faced long delays before hearings began last week.

Last year the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed grave concern at Guyana’s failure to respect Indigenous land rights.