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Indigenous peoples in Paramaribo streets

Indigenous peoples took to the streets of Paramaribo to demand recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights in the legislation of Suriname and implementation of the Kaliña & Lokono judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Photo courtesy of VIDS Archive.

March 1, 2021

Indigenous Peoples in Suriname Intensify Struggle for their Rights

By Max Ooft

Suriname is the only country in the Americas with Indigenous peoples and also Maroon tribal peoples, that has no comprehensive legislation on the rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. This has led and still leads to many painful conflicts over their ancestral lands and resources that they depend upon for their livelihoods. Their ancestral land, which according to the Surinamese law is State’s property, is given out in concession, land lease or even property title to individuals or companies, often even without the knowledge of the involved communities. Environmental pollution, including mercury pollution of almost all rivers in Suriname, due to gold mining is widespread. The communities, often without access to running water, suffer not only from the pollution but also from violence and other sociocultural intrusion by the often illegal small-scale gold miners (garimpeiros). Plans to restart bauxite mining by well-known multinational companies, are back on the table, and exports of roundwood to China is rapidly increasing. Protected areas, governed by laws dating back to 1954 and 1966, are not safe from extractive industries and infrastructural developments.

Amidst these circumstances the Indigenous villages have increased their pressure for legal recognition of their rights. After unsuccessful attempts to have their rights acknowledged in domestic courts, 8 villages from East Suriname together with the national Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname (VIDS) submitted a complaint on violations of their human rights to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. A lengthy process followed, resulting in a victory, the Kaliña & Lokono judgment of 2015 in which the State Suriname has been ordered to legally recognize Indigenous and Tribal Peoples’ rights, their legal existence as collectivities, their traditional authorities and above all their rights to their ancestral lands and resources on which they depend. But the struggle is long but over; since 2015, this judgment has not been implemented. The new government, elected in May 2020, has promised to fully implement the judgment. VIDS has embarked on renewed dialogue with the new government but is also prepared to take renewed legal steps in Suriname itself, this time with the international judgment in hand.

Max Ooft is the Policy Officer at the Bureau of the Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname (VIDS) . Since 2018 VIDS has been a partner of Nia Tero.