Photo: Reflections at Arrowpoint Kamuni Creek, by Amanda Richards
Guyana began negotiating a VPA in 2012. The final draft of the VPA was completed in September 2018 and the initialling took place on 23 November 2018. Civil society groups are concerned that any agreement contains protection for the land rights of indigenous communities in the country.
Guyana has approximately 18.3 million hectares of tropical rainforest, covering 87% of its land area.
Latest VPA update:
After initialling the VPA in November 2018, the Parties are working to ratify the Agreement. The EU Commission is scheduled to submit the VPA to the European Parliament for ratification sometime in the first half of 2020; after this, the Guyanese Ministry of Natural Resources will submit the text to its Parliament. If the proposed schedule is maintained, it should be ratified by the end of 2020.
At the same time, the Parties are focused on establishing structures for management, coordination and monitoring of the implementation. The initial implementation activities will be guided by a Pre-Joint Monitoring and Review Committee (Pre-JMRC) and will receive support from other implementing structures such as the Government Coordination Body (GCB) and the National Implementation Working Group (NIWG). While the Pre-JMRC will consist only of Guyanese and EU officials, the NIWG is a multi-stakeholder body (which held its inaugural meeting in March 2019) that has replaced the National Technical Working Group (NTWG) and will monitor VPA implementation.
A key activity in preparation for VPA implementation is the elaboration of a Joint Implementation Framework (JIF), which is being developed by consultants through steps to ensure broad stakeholder input and participation. As it stands, a fourth draft of the JIF will be presented to the NIWG for final comments in July 2019; after these have been incorporated the final JIF will be submitted to the Pre-JMRC for approval.
In terms of stakeholder participation, the NIWG represents an improvement on its predecessor as it has an indigenous organisation representative. Indigenous organisations in Guyana had long called for a seat at the table on the NTWG, however, only with the new body were they invited to choose one person to represent them. Laura George of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), the main NGO advocating for indigenous rights protection in Guyana, was elected to take the seat.
Some stakeholders feel that the FLEGT negotiation process, and the fact that the EU, indigenous communities and civil society insisted on stakeholder involvement, have contributed to a new acceptance of stakeholder participation where no such tradition existed before, and even a recognition that such representation is useful.
In terms of the substantive VPA issues that have been the source of concern for indigenous communities – e.g. the lack of secure ownership rights to the full extent of their customary land – it is too early to say how these will be dealt with during the implementation period. Although the legality assurance system, GTLAS (annex V), says that the procedures for forest concession allocation will be updated, there is no tangible promise that this will entail an obligation on the state or concession holders to obtain the FPIC of indigenous communities that do not have a title to their land. It is hoped that JIF activities will make the right to give or withhold FPIC explicit. This right is now arguably a part of the legality definition through the inclusion of both international human rights treaties ratified by Guyana and the national Constitution.
It is important to note that the VPA will not be implemented in a vacuum. The Amerindian Act is still being revised and the Amerindian Land Titling Project is underway. While the latter was set up to assist the process of securing Indigenous Peoples’ land rights, its first years of operation were controversial as the project merely replicated the flawed state process for land-titling, which frequently mislaid title applications or significantly reduced the areas that were applied for. Some communities even ended up getting title grants to completely different areas of lands than those for which they had applied. Several communities realised after the fact that their lands had instead been granted as concessions for extractive activities such as mining and logging. After persistent complaints from communities and solidarity organisations, the project board finally adopted strong guidelines for land titling in April 2017, which include an FPIC requirement before titling can go ahead, as well as a grievance mechanism.
The GTLAS (annex V) acknowledges the existence of the Amerindian Land Titling Project and states that if the project’s recommendations for titling or extensions are endorsed by the Cabinet of Guyana, the GFC must adjust concession boundaries should they overlap with these areas. If this were adhered to, and if the concession allocation process developed during VPA implementation does not count as vacant those lands to which indigenous communities have strong occupation, use and spiritual ties, the VPA process could aid the protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
Last updated in July 2019.
The VPA process in Guyana, a civil society perspective
Civil society and indigenous groups in Guyana have been struggling to secure meaningful participation in the VPA process, as indicated in this November 2015 statement.
For the latest information about Guyana, contact
Amerindian Peoples’ Association (APA)
Share this page on social media: