Press Release

IACHR Takes Case involving Kaliña and Lokono Peoples v. Suriname to the Inter-American Court

February 4, 2014

Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case No. 12.639, Kaliña and Lokono Peoples v. Suriname.

The facts of this case involve a series of violations of the rights of the members of eight communities of the Kaliña and Lokono indigenous peoples of Suriname’s Lower Marowijne River. Specifically, the violations have to do with an existing legal framework that prevents recognition of the indigenous peoples’ juridical personality, a situation that to this day continues to keep the Kaliña and Lokono peoples from being able to protect their right to collective property. In addition, the State has failed to establish the regulatory foundations that would allow for recognition of the right to collective ownership of the lands, territories, and natural resources of the Kaliña and Lokono indigenous peoples. This lack of recognition has been accompanied by the issuance of individual land titles to non-indigenous persons; the granting of concessions and licenses to carry out mining operations in part of their ancestral territories; and the establishment and operation of three nature reserves in part of their ancestral territories.

The violations of the right to collective property as a result of this situation continue to this date. Moreover, neither the granting and continued existence of mining concessions and licenses nor the establishment and ongoing operation of the nature reserves have been submitted to any consultation process designed to obtain the prior, free, and informed consent of the Kaliña and Lokono peoples. All these developments have occurred in a context devoid of judicial protection, since no effective remedies exist in Suriname by which indigenous peoples can claim their rights.

The case was sent to the Inter-American Court on January 26, 2014, because after an extension was granted to the State of Suriname to carry out the Commission’s recommendations, the IACHR had not received substantive information as to concrete progress in their implementation. In its report on the merits of the case, the Inter-American Commission recommended that the State of Suriname: adopt any necessary measures for recognition of both the Kaliña and Lokono peoples as legal persons in Suriname’s legal system; eliminate any legal provisions that hamper the protection of the right to property of the Kaliña and Lokono peoples; adopt measures to protect the territory in which both peoples exercise communal ownership, without detriment to other indigenous and tribal communities; refrain from actions that could lead third parties, with the State’s acquiescence or tolerance, to affect the property or territorial integrity of the Kaliña and Lokono peoples; review, through effective and informed consultation with the Kaliña and Lokono peoples, the land titles that have been granted to non-indigenous peoples, the terms of the mining activities, and the establishment of the nature reserves, to determine proper modifications; take steps to delimit, demarcate, and grant both peoples collective title to the lands and territories they have traditionally occupied and used; and adopt measures to ensure the judicial protection that would enable the Kaliña and Lokono peoples to effectively exercise their rights.

This case reflects a structural problem area involving a lack of recognition in domestic law of the juridical personality and right to collective property of indigenous peoples in Suriname. Another component of this problem is a lack of effective judicial remedies for the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. Moreover, this case lays out the way in which States should ensure that their environmental protection initiatives and policies, particularly the establishment of nature reserves, are compatible with the rights of indigenous peoples.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 9/14