Press Releases
The Global Justice Clinic Stands in Solidarity with the SRDC as it Faces COVID-19 Crisis; Echoes Call for Government of Guyana to Protect the Human Rights of the Wapichan People

The Global Justice Clinic stands in solidarity with the indigenous peoples of the South Rupununi in Guyana and sends our deepest condolences to the families of two residents of Potarinau village who recently passed away following exposure to COVID-19.

These deaths follow failures by the Guyanese government and the National COVID-19 Task Force to protect Wapichan communities despite repeated pleas for assistance by the South Rupununi District Council (SRDC)—the collective governance body for 21 Wapichan villages. Since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Guyana in March 2020, the SRDC and Wapichan Toshaos (village leaders) have worked assiduously to protect their communities in the absence of adequate governmental support. In particular, the SRDC: conducts regular border monitoring to block illegal crossings along the Guyana-Brazil border; monitors entry and access into Wapichan villages; works with local security and health personnel to implement measures to protect the community; and recently instituted a lockdown in Wapichan villages on July 15, 2020.

Wapichan villages have been made extremely vulnerable to health challenges—and to COVID-19 in particular—through the inadequate healthcare system and lack of supplies in the South Rupununi region, as well as the government’s failure to respect the SRDC’s wishes concerning its territory. The Global Justice Clinic is alarmed that the government has not only failed to fulfil its obligation to protect the health and welfare of these citizens of Guyana, it has also undermined the SRDC’s efforts to protect Wapichan communities by prioritizing mining interests over Wapichan lives. As the SRDC reported, our efforts have been stymied by the Government’s continued refusal to remove mining from its list of essential services and by its interventions on behalf of miners which have allowed them to continue to traverse our territory, threatening and challenging our gatekeepers.” The SRDC reports that the flow of miners into Wapichan villages—authorized by the government against Wapichan wishes—has exposed Wapichan communities to the spread of COVID-19.

The Global Justice Clinic echoes the SRDC’s repeated calls for the Guyanese government to take urgent action to protect the Wapichan people and to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in Wapichan communities. These actions include: halting mining in Wapichan territory for the duration of the pandemic; respecting SRDC authority to monitor entry and access into their territory; increasing the amount of COVID-19 testing supplies available in Wapichan villages and immediately testing those with positive symptoms; and conducting contact tracing. The SRDC also urges the government to cooperate in closely monitoring the Guyana-Brazil border to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 into Wapichan communities from Brazil, which is experiencing an explosive outbreak.

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