Suriname Information Update

Recycled News ay903 at
Wed Sep 9 17:28:26 EST 1998

August 1, 1998


Saramacca Maroon leaders have once again written to the President of
Suriname seeking recognition of their land rights.  This is the third
time this year that the leaders have made public declarations
concerning their rights to their ancestral lands.  The previous
declarations concerned the granting of logging concessions to a
Chinese logging company called NV Tacoba (aka. NV Topco and Tacoba
Forestry Consultants).  The village leader's previous declarations
stated unequivocally that they were opposed to the operations Tacoba
on or near their ancestral lands.  The leaders stated that they want
their rights to own and control their ancestral lands, as defined by
international human rights law, recognized and respected.  The
Government has not responded in any way .


The Saramacca leaders first became aware that a concession had been
granted in their territory when Tacoba officials arrived in the
communities of Nieuw Aroura and Goejaba.  They informed the
communities that they were about to begin logging operations. The
communities later discovered that Tacoba and other logging companies
had been granted multiple logging concessions in and near their
territory.  Indonesian company, Barito Pacific, is also rumored to be
acquiring a concession of 600,000 hectares covering Saramacca and
Aucaner Maroon territories from central Suriname to the Marowijne
River, that forms Suriname's eastern border.  Barito representatives
recently visited the area (JaiKreek) accompanied by Surinamese
national army troops and helicopters carrying a letter signed
personally by the President of Suriname.   Apparently, a deal was
signed with Barito while the President of Suriname was in Indonesia
last September.

Tacoba  is a subsidiary of a Hong Kong based company.  It is also
known to have relations with the former military dictator of
Suriname, Desi Bouterse, himself active in the timber business as a
third party buyer, and members of  Suriname's ruling party, the
National Democratic Party.  Suriname recently opened an embassy in
China and has been seeking expanded trade and aid relations.  Tacoba
seems to be one of the first major Chinese investments in Suriname.

One of Tacoba's concessions encompasses the Maroon community of
Dowatra.  Reportedly, Tacoba representatives told the village leader
of Dowatra that his community was not allowed to use the forest more
than one kilometer from the village as the area was in a Tacoba
concession.  They then stated that if he complained or tried to take
the company to court, he would lose and would be put in jail.
According to community members, they use forest resources up to twenty
kilometers from the village.  These resources are used for basic
subsistence purposes.  Tacoba has proceeded to construct 15 logging
roads off the main road in the area of Dowatra and is cutting a
substantial amount of timber.  This timber is transported
approximately one hundred kilometers north, where it is transported by
river to the coast.  It is unknown if Tacoba has completed an
Environmental and Social Impact Assesment for its operations: if it
has, it has not been made public.

"Our Laws Are Not Written But They Stay Laws"

Maroons are the descendants of African slaves who fought for and won
their freedom from the Dutch colonial regime that ruled Suriname until
1975.  Their rights to freedom from slavery and to self-government
within their territories were recognized in treaties concluded with
the Dutch in the 18th Century.  Since that time they have been living
in Suriname's rainforests, concentrated along the major waterways.
The Saramacca are one of the six Maroon peoples of Suriname.  The
present government of Suriname states that it has no legal obligations
under the treaties with the Maroons and does not recognize their
rights to own their ancestral lands.  Furthermore, it has or is in the
process of granting vast areas of the rainforest in concession to
multinational logging and mining companies.  These concessions are
granted without even notifying Indigenous and Maroon communities, let
alone seeking their participation or approval, even if their villages
fall within the concessions.  Presently, at least two-thirds of the
Indigenous and Maroon communities are either in or very near to
logging and mining concessions.

The Saramacca leaders have formed an Association to educate their
communities about land rights and the environment and to oppose the
activities of Tacoba.  They have started to map their lands with the
aim of presenting a request for title to the government.  However,
prospects for legal recognition through negotiation or recourse to the
legal system appear to be minimal.  Suriname is presently the only
country in the western hemisphere that does not have legal,
constitutional or other provisions that account in some way for
Indigenous and Maroon rights to land. The government has made promises
to address the issue, dating back to 1992, but has failed to live up
to these promises.

Presently, all land in the interior of the country (approximately 80%)
is classified as state land and Indigenous peoples and Maroons are
considered to be permissive occupiers of state land without rights or
title thereto.  If their subsistence activities conflict with logging
or mining operations, the latter take precedence as a matter of law.
Furthermore, Surinamese law does not provide any mechanism for
consulting with communities about the granting of concessions on or
near their territories.  International human rights standards provide
that Indigenous peoples and Maroons have the right to participate
fully in decisions, before they are taken, about whether concessions
are granted on their lands.  This right includes the right to
information concerning the proposed activities, companies involved and
the nature of the riskes posed by the activity.

The latest letter sent by the Maroon leaders is reproduced below.  It
states that "Surinamese law does not recognize tribes, but it does
recognize foundations" (stichtingen).  Consequently, the Maroons feel
compelled to organize themselves as a foundation in order to qualify
for a title to their lands - lands that they have always considered
theirs and governed by their own laws.  The reason that the
communities need to organize as a foundation to obtain title is
because Surinamese law does not recognize that Indigenous and Maroon
communities have legal personality.  This is a violation of
fundamental human rights in that the communities are not recognized
before the law and are therefore, legally incapable of holding and
defending their rights.  It also fails to recognize Maroon's own
distinct forms of socio-cultural and political organization and forces
them to adopt alien organizational structures in order to obtain title
to their lands.  Additionally, the only form of title that can
presently be obtained in Suriname is a lease of state land (grondhuur)
for a 20 year period that is issued subject to compliance with certain
conditions.  Failure to comply with the conditions can result in
revocation of title.  Grondhuur titles can also be granted as logging
and mining concessions, as the state maintains rights to timber and
mineral resources pertaining to the land.

The Sarmacca leader's letter reads:

    mr. Drs. Jules A. Wijdenbosch

(Original in Saramaccans)
Godo, june 5th

More than two hundreds years ago the tribes of the Matjau, Nasi,
Papoto, Fandaaki, Abaisa, Biitu, Awana, Watambii, Langu and Jamfai
came to live at the Upper- Suriname river. At that time our ancestors
regulated who had rights to cut trees, to make agriculture plots and
to hunt. According to the laws of the Saamaka every tribe can work
where it has rights. Someone who doesn't belong to the tribe, needs to
ask permission from the members of the tribe before he can work on the
land. That is what our laws say. We ask permission from the tribe, we
don't ask permission from the government in town, we don't ask
permission from the Graman, because the laws of the Saamaka were made
before they give us a Graman. Until now all Saamaka live according to
these law. Our laws are not written but they stay laws.

Surinamese law does not recognizes tribes, but it does recognize
foundations. That is why we want to establish a foundation for our
tribe. When the foundation is established it will seek a title for the
lands where we have our agriculture plots. We don't mark our lands
(the boundaries) with lines on a map, we mark with creeks. The people
of the seven villages Kampu, Godo, Soolan, Bofukele, Akwaukonde,
Gaanse and Daume, together we cultivate the land (forest) at the West
Side of the river, from Asigoon as far as Baakukiiki as far as
Munjawojokiiki. The land upstream of Asigoon belong  the people of
Langu. The land downstream of Baakukiikiand Munjawojokiiki belong to
Nasinenge and Abaisa. The land at the East Side of the river belong to
the Watambii, Matjau, Fandaaki en Biitu. We don't know precisely yet
how large the lands are that we cultivate, but they will be probably
250 km2. Behind these lands we walk six hours into the forests to cut
trees. We walk a whole day before we arrive at the place where we
hunt. We have begun to make a map of our lands, but it is not finished
yet. We have started to register the people who live in the seven
villages, but we are not finished yet. It will be approximately 3500

If we take into consideration that 3500 people live on a land of
250km2 and the total population of Suriname is 400.000 people on a
land of 160000 km2, then we don't ask too much when we ask the
government to recognize the rights we have to our lands.

We are not ready yet to ask the government to grant us title on our
lands. We are busy establishing a foundation. We are having meetings
with the other tribes to be sure about which tribe owns which lands.
We are making a map and writing the names of all the members of the
tribe. Such a work takes time. But we heard that people start asking
for concessions on our lands. That's why we are sending you this
letter, to tell you that the lands of Papoto and Daume are not unused,
so that one may not grant them to other people.

List of authorities who signed the letter
Adeson                  kapitein van Godo
Saben Mazonoe           kapitein van Daume
Bajafaja Amoesie                kapitein van Daume
Tani Mazonoe            basia van Daume
Denge Pikitio           basia van Gaanseei
Simo Mahes              kapitein van Akwaukende
Alohanba Mahes          kapitein van Gaanseei
Vola Amakiti            basia van Gaanseei
Mazonoe Kakisa          basia van Daume
Aketoe Kwasiba          basia van Kampu
Koi Amalinsi            basia van Kampu

List of authorities who agreed with the letter, they did not sign
because they cannot read and write.

Adoso Koese             basia van Godo
Kasee                   basia van Soolan
Ozee Kemedi             basia van Soolan
Amajotang               kapitein van Godo
Miendie                 kapitein van Godo
Avoisaman               kapitien van Soolan
Kasipo                          kapitein van Bofukule
Dominie                 kapitein van Bofukule

Suriname has or is in the process of granting multiple logging
concessions.  These concessions most likely amount to well over two
million hectares in total and have been granted to companies with
dubiuos records concerning the environment and human rights.
Moreover, the government's capacity to monitor the operations of these
companies, despite an infusion of aid aimed at strengthening forest
management institutions, is minimal to non-existent.  Also, many in
Suriname question the inclination of the government to monitor company
operations and impose penalties for abusive practices.  MUSA, for
instance, which has operated for many years in Suriname, has
persistently violated the law and the terms of its operating permit -
this is widely known in Suriname -has never been fined by the Forestry
Service.  In fact, there has never been an official complaint against
a logging company filed by the government.
 Suriname's rainforests are high in biological diversity and endemic
species and are the ancestral homelands of tens of thousands of
Indigenous peoples and Maroons.  If the government continues down its
present course, these forests and the peoples dependent on them will
be seriously, perhaps irrovacably affected.

If Indigenous rights, particularly as related to lands, territory and
resources, are to be recognized in Suriname, new legislation will have
to be adopted that is consistent with Suriname's obligations under
international human rights instruments.  This new legislation would
also need to detail rights and procedures by which Indigenous peoples
can participate fully in, if not consent to, decisions concerning land
use and management.  Rights to cultural integrity, including an
explicit disavowal of forcible assimilation, would also need to be
included.  Rights to maintain, use and strengthen Indigenous
institutions of governance, in particular rights to
self-determination, autonomy and self-government, must also be
accounted for.  As an additional measure of protection, the rights of
Indigenous peoples and Maroons to, inter alia, own their ancestral
territories, to autonomy and self-government and to cultural integrity
must also be entrenched in the Constitution.

As Surinamese law does not provide adequate remedies to protect
Indigenous and Maroon rights to their ancestral territories, and as
the government is unwilling to appropriately address the subject
politically, Indigenous peoples and Maroons are forced to seek redress
and support on the international level.  The environmental integrity
of their territories is also threatened by uncontrolled and
irresponsible resource extraction and other development schemes, the
benefits of which are enjoyed by only a few well connected
individuals.  The situation of Indigenous peoples and Maroons in
Suriname requires urgent international attention if they are to
survive and prosper as distinct peoples.  The same can also be said
for Suriname's rainforests, which cover about 85 percent of the

For further information please contact,

Forest Peoples Programme
1c, Fosseway Business Centre
Stratford Road
Moreton in Marsh, GL56 9NQ
United Kingdom
Tel. 44. 1608. 652. 893.
Fax. 44. 1608. 652. 878
Email : wrm at

South and Meso American Indian Rights Center (SAIIC)
P.O. Box 28703
Oakland CA, 94604
Phone: (510)834-4263   Fax: (510)834-4264
Email: saiic at
Office: 1714 Franklin Street, 3rd Floor, Oakland

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