Gold mining in Guyana damages environment, threatens Amerindians
mongabay.com
March 7, 2007




Informal gold mining is causing environmental harm and human rights abuses in Guyana says a new report from the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) of Harvard Law School's Human Rights Program.

The report, titled "All that Glitters: Gold Mining in Guyana," notes that the Guyanese government has failed to reign in wildcat miners and protect the rights of indigenous populations. It also says the mining has caused deforestation and mercury pollution, which can cause severe public health problems, and worsened malaria in the region.

"Medium and small scale gold mining as currently practiced and regulated inflict severe environmental, health, and social damage on the areas and people near mining operations," said Bonnie Docherty, clinical instructor at the IHRC. "This is a classic case of the link between environmental damage and human rights abuses. By contaminating the country's rivers, gold mining is threatening the lives and livelihoods of the indigenous people."



The report studies the small and medium scale gold mining on Amerindian indigenous communities and analyzes the regulatory environment in which these abuses occur. It notes that are four flaws in Guyana's legal system that have exacerbated the ills of gold mining: giving priority to subsurface rights over surface rights; failing to fully implement environmental regulations from 2005; under-enforcement of its current regulations; and weak monitoring of medium and small scale mines, which the report notes "represent the majority of those in Guyana."

"Our observations confirmed that the areas around mines resemble a moonscape of barren, mounded sand and mud," Docherty said. "Since small scale miners typically wash the topsoil away in order to get to the gold-bearing clayey soil underneath, the sites of former mines are quite infertile and incapable of supporting regenerated rainforest."

The report calls upon the Guyanese government to "implement institutional reforms to curb the environmental degradation caused by mining and to protect the rights of the Amerindian community" by limiting locations where mining can take place, implementing mining laws already on the books, promoting education of Amerindians and miners on mining safety, and encouraging cooperation between miners and local communities.

"The most significant changes in mining regulation must come from the Guyanese government," Docherty told mongabay.com via email.

She adds that the international community can also play a role in addressing the mining problem.

"The biggest role the international community can play is to push Guyana to fulfill its obligations under international law," she explained. "Specifically, international financial institutions, which are significantly involved in Guyana's economic development, have a duty to use their influence to promote sustainable practices that protect the rights of Guyana's most vulnerable inhabitants."

The report is available in PDF format at All that Glitters: Gold Mining in Guyana

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This article uses quotes from a Harvard University news release.

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CITATION:
mongabay.com (March 06, 2007).

Gold mining in Guyana damages environment, threatens Amerindians.

http://news.mongabay.com/2007/0306-guyana.html