The Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ (IACtHR, Court) decision in Saramaka People v. Suriname signified an important victory for tribal communities in their battle against land encroachment. The 2007 ruling recognized that tribal communities’ physical and cultural relationships with their ancestral territories should be protected under international human rights law. However since this victory, there have been new obstacles facing the Saramaka People. On September 4, 2013, the Court denied Saramakan requests for provisional measures against the Surinamese government for alleged intimidation of Saramakan leaders and its approval of a new harmful mining concession made without prior Saramakan consultation. Despite denying provisional measures, the Court has required Suriname to submit a report on the mining concession by October 25, 2013.
Saramaka involved the Surinamese government’s grant of mining and lumber concessions to foreign companies on traditional Saramakan land. These concessions were made without Saramakan consent and severely interfered with the Saramakans’ territorial use and enjoyment. On November 28, 2007, the Court found for the Saramakans and issued various recommendations. The Court ordered Suriname to delineate Saramakan territorial boundaries, legally recognize Saramakan communal property rights, consult with the Saramakans regarding projects affecting their land, and ensure that environmental and social impact assessments are conducted before the granting of any concession within Saramakan territory.
In requesting the most recent provisional measures, the Saramakans alleged that Suriname threatened tribal leaders with loss of their government salary and personal repercussions if they continued as Saramakan legal representatives before the Court. The Court denied these provisional measures because the allegations did not reveal an extremely grave situation involving the leaders’ right to life or personal integrity, as required by Articles 63(2) of the American Convention and 27(1) of its Rules of Procedure.
Additionally in the same September 4th request, the Saramakans called for provisional measures against a new mining concession awarded on June 7, 2013, to the International African Mining Gold Corporation within traditional Saramakan territory. The Saramakans alleged that Suriname granted the mining concession without first consulting them or demarcating their traditional territory, which violated the Court’s 2007 holding. The Saramakans also stated that the mining project would severely harm their people and lands. However, the Court denied provisional measures stating that the assessment of the mining concession fell under the Court’s duty to supervise compliance with judgment, and not under a provisional measures framework.
The Court indicated that the concession implicated various provisions of its 2007 judgment and that it has closely monitored the judgment’s execution. The Court has held two private hearings on judgment compliance in 2010 and 2011, during which the Court declared that Suriname was noncompliant with various judgment obligations. Thus, while the Court denied the issuance of provisional measures, it did require Suriname to submit a report to it by October 25, 2013, detailing the concession’s scope, the methods by which the Saramakans were consulted, whether environmental and social impact assessments preceded the concession, and any applicable benefits to the Saramakans.
The decision in Saramaka v. Suriname established new standards for indigenous and collective rights. To maintain the significance of the decision it is essential that the Court continue to monitor Surinamese compliance. Although the Court’s denial of Saramakan requests for provisional measures represents a set back to the Saramakan People, overall the Court’s post-Saramaka actions show that it is making a concerted effort to deter harmful Surinamese action through the application of its judgment compliance procedures.