Gros Rosebel Concession Dispute in Suriname: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) preliminary assessment report released

Apr 19, 2017

Laura Wood, UNDP Suriname Intern

“We need to work towards a sustainable solution that Suriname can be proud of in the future”.  District Commissioner for Brokopondo.

On 6 April, UNDP Suriname hosted an interactive briefing session to present the mission report of the Gros Rosebel concession/ Nieuw Koffiekamp on-going engagement.  The report was prompted by a letter sent on the 21 April 2016 by the Government of Suriname (GoS), through the Minister of Natural Resources, formally requesting assistance from UNDP in finding an amicable solution to the long- standing dispute in the Gros Rosebel gold mine concession.  The dispute involves the community of the Nieuw Koffiekamp (NK) and a group of small-scale miners called Makamboa, on one side and the Canadian mining company IAMGOLD on the other side. 

Minister for Natural Resources, Hon. Regilio Dodson, formally opened the briefing session by indicating his Ministry’s commitment to ensuring all sides in the current conflict are treated fairly.  “My Ministry has invested lots of hours in working with both sides to find an amicable and sustainable resolution and we thank the UNDP for joining us and bringing this level of impartiality and fairness to the deliberations” said the Minister.

Revenues from the mining sectors account for about 30% of Suriname’s GDP.  Gold mining represent a large share of those revenues, and it is one of the primary sources of jobs and income for people living in the hinterland. 

In 1994 a concession was awarded for the Gros Rosebel gold mine, the mineral agreement between Canadian Gold Star Resources, was later taken over by Cambior and eventually IAMGOLD (all Canadian companies).   The agreement between the government and the mining companies, which was also approved by Parliament, was made despite the presence of the Maroon village of Nieuw Koffiekamp within the concession area. The village had already been relocated once in 1960s to give way to the construction of the Afobaka dam.  Community members of the Koffiekamp split into three smaller communities, with some moving to Marechalkreek, another part choosing to live in Paramaribo and a third group settling in what is currently Nieuw Koffiekamp. 

The Constitution of Suriname states that natural resources are the exclusive property of the sate (art. 41).  However, recent rulings of international human rights courts established clear-cut economic and cultural rights for indigenous peoples and require the State of Suriname to engage in a process of demarcation of indigenous lands.  Ms. Rae- Ann Peart, Peace and Development Advisor, UNDP Caribbean, and one of the three-member team that conducted the mission in August 2016, presented the findings of the report to the audience. She stated “the situation presents complex challenges, the only response is one that is holistic and multi dimensional in nature- we need to work with short, medium and longer term actions”.

The briefing session provided a platform for parties to come together and discuss the report’s findings and next steps for working towards a peaceful resolution.  Mr. Armstrong Alexis, Deputy Representative UNDP Suriname, acknowledged the UNDP’s role in supporting a resolution “The United Nations Development Programme will adopt a human rights based approach, as we do with all of our work”.  Mr. Alexis continued stating “people need to be recognised as key actors in their own development, participation will be a means and a goal; and strategies will be empowering, not disempowering; and we will focus on the marginalised and disadvantaged”. 

Ms. Peart stated, “Efforts should seek to address the root cause of problems”.   She continued stating the report proposes, “Short-term initiatives which are mainly envisaged to break the decade long cycle of mistrust, retaliatory acts and unresolved disputes that have eventually led to an entrenched conflict”.  All parties echoed the importance of thinking sustainably when developing a resolution, recognising the environmental impacts of mining practices involving mercury and other techniques detrimental to the environment.  Mr. Alexis stated, “the future does not belong to us, it is simply borrowed from our children”.  The parties involved are currently considering the recommendations outlined in the report and will determine how best to preserve the rights of their members without infringing on the rights of others.  Ms. Peart concluded her presentation stating, “After hearing from different stakeholders today, I am encouraged moving forward”.

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