Amazon - Suriname
Suriname, a country on the north-eastern coast of South America, is one of the nine countries the vast Amazon rainforest encompasses. With a surface area of 163,820km², the Amazon covers 94% of Suriname’s land. While the majority of the Surinamese population inhabit the capital city, Paramaribo, as well as other coastal cities, approximately 5% of the Surinamese population live in interior rainforest territories. For the majority indigenous populations that inhabit the interior territories, traditional methods of hunting and farming are a way of life. The Amazon rainforest, therefore, is their livelihood – and a resource worth protecting.
The situation in Suriname and how the Amazon is endangered by deforestation and the country policies
Resource Extraction and Deforestation
Yet Suriname’s policies relating to resource extraction endanger the Amazon. High global demand for gold encourages deforestation and haphazard extraction activities. Meanwhile, the relaxed enforcement of lenient legislation only further contributes to the degradation of its world-renowned forestry; the critical Mining Code of 1986 relates to concession rights and administration and is thus outdated in light of countries’ heightened interest in environmental responsibility. Undertaken by illegal migrant miners from Brazil and occurring in the borderlands or protected areas, these small-scale mining operations produce mercury pollution and runoff, impacting the environment that lies at the heart of the indigenous communities’ existence.
Indigenous Tourism – Friend or Foe?
In addition to Suriname’s policies concerning resource extraction, the ever-growing sector of ‘Indigenous Tourism’ can also be perceived to have an endangering impact on the Amazon. Indigenous tourism can be understood as tourist activities that involve the cultures and habitats of indigenous people as the fundamental part of the attraction. While tourism is crucial to Suriname’s economic growth, it should be made evident that aspects such as “eco”- resorts, that are not part of the indigenous villages, result in dislocation and therefore disrupts the essence of the land. It furthermore enables the potential of making the Amazon region vulnerable to the international market because of diasporic tourism. If Suriname aspires to create educational spaces for indigenous peoples and incorporate them directly in the tourism sector, the concept of ‘Indigenous Tourism’ may not be entirely harmful.
The Deprivation of Human Rights of the Indigenous Communities
Although Suriname is party to various international and regional human rights treaties, it has continuously failed to recognize, respect, and implement Indigenous Peoples’ rights enshrined in those instruments. As a result, Indigenous peoples are being marginalized and deprived of their fundamental human rights as guaranteed in various treaties such as, inter alia, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Accordingly, such rights include (i) the right to self-determination; (ii) the right to an adequate standard of living; (iii) the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; (iv) property rights and (v) the right to education. First, even though the right to self-determination was recognized to include the right to own and control traditional lands and resources, Indigenous peoples are still not entitled to enjoy such rights. Second, Surinamese Indigenous Peoples are being denied their inherent right to an adequate standard of living including adequate food, water, clothing, housing, and the improvement of living conditions. Third, the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is, likewise, not guaranteed to the indigenous communities, due to the poor access to healthcare facilities and lack of qualitatively competent medical staff. Fourth, despite the pivotal role of the lands and resources for Indigenous Peoples, Suriname fails to provide their right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories, and resources that they possess. Finally, access to education remains limited for the indigenous communities, since schools are not available. If and when they are available, they are not adequately equipped to meet the needs of the students, and therefore their right to education is infringed upon.
Such infringements upon the rights of the Indigneous communities have been brought to judicial institutions, such as the Inter-American Commision on Human Rights (IACHR). In 2015, the IACHR delivered a judgment in the case of the Kaliña and Lokono Peoples v. Suriname, and declared the State of Suriname culpable for the violation of (i) rights to recognition of juridical personality, (ii) collective property, (iii) political rights, (iv) cultural identity, and (v) the duty to adopt domestic legal provisions, all of which are reported to have deprived the aforementioned indigenous communities of an entitled, demarcated territory (Kaliña and Lokono Peoples v. Suriname, 2015). Such decisions from international actors inspire an increasingly collective-oriented view on international human rights by recognising the collective legal personality of Indigenous peoples, and by extension, make the likelihood of enforcing such rights all the more tangible.
However, where the Amazon territories of Brazil and Peru, for example, have garnered much attention and have remained the center of concern for climate and human rights activists, the Surinamese Amazon rainforest remains a comparatively insufficiently researched and protected territory. Demand for natural resources, lax legislation, and weaning international pressures are all cause for concern. Hence, awareness, research and action are pertinent to ensure a future for the Surinamese Amazon territories and the indigenous peoples that reside within it.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights., Case of the Kaliña and Lokono Peoples v. Suriname. Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of November 25, 2015. Series C No. 309.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Dec. 16, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, arts. 1(1), 27.
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Dec. 16, 1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3, arts. 1(1), 11-12, 13(1), 15.
Convention on the Rights of the Child, Nov. 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3, arts. 11, 24(2)(c), 28-29, 32.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Dec. 21, 1965, 660 U.N.T.S. 195, art. 5(d)(v).
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Dec. 18 1979, 1249 U.N.T.S. 13.
American Convention on Human Rights, Nov. 22, 1969, O.A.S. Treaty Series No. 36 (ACHR) art. 21.
Observations on the State of Indigenous Human Rights in Suriname prepared for the United Nations Human Rights Council: Universal Periodic Review March 2021, 4.