Suriname

Indigenous peoples in Suriname

There are 20,344 indigenous people in Suriname. In 2007, Suriname voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous but the legislative system of the country, based on colonial legislation, does not recognize Indigenous or tribal peoples. The country is one of the few in South American that has not ratified ILO Convention 169.

Indigenous peoples in Suriname

According to the last census from 2012, the Indigenous peoples of Suriname account for approximately 20,344 people or 3.8% of the total population of 541,638.

The four most numerous Indigenous peoples are the Kali’.a (Caribs), Lokono (Arawaks), Trio (Tirio, Tareno) and Wayana. There are also small settlements of other Amazonian Indigenous peoples in the south of the country, including the Akurio, Apalai, Wai-Wai, Katuena/Tunayana, Mawayana, Pireuyana, Sikiiyana, Okomoyana, Alamayana, Maraso, Sirewu and Sak.ta. The Kali’.a and Lokono live mainly in the northern part of the country and are sometimes referred to as "lowland" indigenous peoples, whereas the Trio, Wayana and other Amazonian peoples live in the south and are referred to as "highland" peoples.

Main challenges for Suriname’s indigenous peoples

The fact that the legislative system of Suriname is based on colonial legislation and has no legislation governing Indigenous peoples’ land or other rights is a major struggle for the lives of indigenous peoples. It represents a threat to the survival and well-being of these communities, along with respect for their rights, particularly given the strong focus that is being placed on Suriname’s many natural resources, including oil, bauxite, gold, water, forests and biodiversity.

One of the main struggles among indigenous peoples, that is, land rights, has seen yet another step back during 2017. The parliament of Suriname approved an amendment to a core “Domain Land” law of 1982, that declared all land over which no title can be proven to be State Domain. The amendment sets to "protect" the traditional lands of Indigenous and tribal peoples by prohibiting the State from giving any concession right or land title in areas that are within a radius of five kilometres of Indigenous and tribal peoples’ villages, without the community’s consent. However, Pre-existing third-party rights are upheld, and the explanatory note to the amendment reiterates that all land remains domain land over which the State has exclusive decisive authority. Indigenous and tribal peoples’ organisations have expressed great concerns regarding the amendment that was approved without their involvement or comments.

Potential progress for Suriname’s indigenous peoples

VIDS, the "Vereniging van Inheemse Dorpshoofden in Suriname" (Association of Indigenous Village Leaders) has been awarded the inaugural EU Human Rights Award by the Delegation of the European Union for Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, in recognition of its valuable contributions in working towards promoting and defending the rights of Indigenous peoples in Suriname. During 2016 and 207, the association implemented an EU-funded national awareness programme on Indigenous peoples’ rights in order to gain more understanding of and sympathy for Indigenous peoples’ rights among the general public.

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