By Kadeem Joseph
A human rights group is warning of “disastrous” consequences if there is a departure from the centuries-old system of communal land ownership on Barbuda, despite a recent Privy Council ruling paving the way for such.
The entity speaking out is the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), which describes itself as a non-profit organisation striving for innovative legal actions across borders to challenge powerful actors involved in human rights violations and systemic injustice by working with affected communities.
On June 13, the Privy Council – the country’s final court of appeal – dismissed a challenge to the Paradise Found Act 2015, which sought to circumvent traditional communal land rights on the island to allow the eponymous resort development to go ahead.
GLAN contends that the Privy Council failed to address a legally recognised land tenure system that had existed since slavery and instead found that Barbudans’ land rights are limited to a right to apply for a grant of exclusive occupation or for grazing animals; whereas only exclusive proprietary rights and the rights of the Crown are protected under the constitution.
“Despite the recognition of ancestral and communal relationships with the land, the Privy Council adopted a Western-centric understanding of property that does not reflect the historical, social and cultural specificity of the island.
“The decision reinforces the idea that colonialism has never really ended on Barbuda, and that Barbudans are merely guests on the Crown’s land,” GLAN legal advisor on land rights Dr Tomaso Ferrando said.
Meanwhile, legal officer with GLAN Jasmine Rayée described the Privy Council’s ruling as “devastating” for Barbudans, with “potentially disastrous consequences” for the ecology of the sister isle.
“The Privy Council failed to recognise the importance of Barbudans collectively acting as stewards for their island, prioritising instead the interests of the central government in Antigua and foreign luxury tourism developers,” she said.
“This endangers the fragile ecology of this low-lying island in times of a heightened global climate crisis; US-based developers are already destroying mangrove vegetation and natural dunes on the coast within an internationally listed wetland,” she claimed, referring to areas protected under global treaty the Ramsar Convention.
In a press statement yesterday, GLAN said the Privy Council ruling opens the door for “further exploitation” of Barbuda by luxury developers.
The GLAN release came the same day that Cabinet spokesperson and Information Minister Melford Nicholas reassured Barbudans that there would be “no capricious selling off of the land in Barbuda”.
He explained that there will be a process of survey, mapping and demarcation of land on the sister isle that will form a composite land registry.
Nicholas said the government will adopt parts of a plan that was submitted at least five years ago and seeks to partition the island into six distinct areas to include housing, tourism, agriculture and a national park.
He also expressed the government’s happiness that the legal proceedings concerning the land matter have come to an end.
The minister also chided leader of the United Progressive Party Harold Lovell and Barbuda Member of Parliament Trevor Walker for giving the people of the sister island what he claimed was “false hope” that there are further avenues to be explored in the long-running land battle, instead of moving forward “in harmony”.