Barbudan activists seek international intervention to Protect Communal Land Rights

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By Samantha Simon

[email protected]

Lawyers representing Barbudan activists have filed an urgent request to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, seeking the adoption of precautionary measures to halt the central government’s plans to abolish communal land ownership on the sister isle of Barbuda.

The legal action, spearheaded by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) on behalf of the Barbuda Land Rights and Resources Committee (BLRRC), aims to protect the rights of Barbudans and prevent irreparable harm to their land, culture, and environment.

Precautionary measures can be issued by the Inter-American Commission when there is a serious and urgent situation that puts people at risk of suffering irreparable harm.

The Commission has previously issued such measures to protect other Afro-descendant communities and Indigenous groups facing similar issues.

The legal team argues that the proposed adjudication process, which would transfer land on Barbuda to the government, paves the way for harmful and unsustainable developments by foreign investors.

These developments, they claim, will devastate the island’s delicate ecology, exacerbating its vulnerability to climate change and pollution.

Developers have already torn out mangroves, which serve as critical barriers against extreme weather events and as vital carbon sinks.

The Barbudan system of collective land tenure is protected, and any outsider use of Barbudan land or resources requires the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the Barbudan people.

The legal team asserts that the adjudication process threatens not only these key rights but also the social, economic, and cultural rights of Barbudans, as well as their right to live in a healthy environment and their right to climate justice.

Children, who make up over half of the Barbudan population, are particularly at risk.

The traditional land allocation practice, whereby Barbudans are granted a parcel of land from the Barbuda Council upon turning 18, could be jeopardised if lands are restricted.

This would deny children culturally significant experiences linked to the lands, such as crab hunting and camping in nature, which are key parts of their heritage.

The matter goes to the heart of an ongoing conflict over land between many Barbudans and the central government, which was reignited in the wake of 2017’s catastrophic Hurricane Irma.

The government maintains that the country is a unitary state and that Barbudans have no more rights to land on the sister isle than Antiguans.

It has also repeatedly claimed that large-scale luxury developments are crucial for Barbuda’s economic future.

GLAN and the BLRRC are working closely with Barbudans to develop a community-led, multi-pronged legal and advocacy strategy to preserve the collective land tenure system.

They emphasise that Barbudans have been the custodians of the land under their system of communal land tenure and have protected the delicate ecology and environment of their island for centuries.

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