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Press Release: Barbudans resisting destructive island developments ironically excluded from International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

For immediate release: 27 May 2024

Barbudan community members proudly hold up the self-determination flag of Barbuda

As the 4th International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) kicks off in Antigua civil society groups are calling out the UN event for excluding Barbudans while platforming the developers who are destroying their island. The Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) together with local partner, the Barbuda Land Rights and Resources Committee (BLRRC) are raising serious concerns regarding the lack of grassroots and local representation specifically of Barbudan land defenders and the Barbuda Council. At the same time, billionaire JP Dejoria whose company Peace Love Happiness (PLH) is building a golf resort over Barbuda's internationally listed wetland is appearing at events in the company of Prime Minister Gaston Browne. These destructive developments make this low-lying island more vulnerable to climate change and have already attracted widespread international criticism from UN experts who have written both to Dejoria and Browne raising issues with the PLH project on human rights grounds. Rather than being at the table where decisions are made, Barbudans’ only option is to raise awareness of the ecological and climate crisis on Barbuda outside the event.

Barbuda, the smaller island of the twin-island nation, has seen developers flood into in to acquire large stretches of land in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017. Since this time islanders have seen their southern and western coastline captured, land defenders have been arrested and experienced widespread environmental harms. The conference is set to feature two sessions hosted by scientist Deborah Brosnan whose company provided Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) that enabled many of the unsustainable developments on Barbuda to proceed. The EIAs greenlighted the PLH project, a luxury residential enclave which has been heavily criticised for destroying Barbuda’s wetlands, cutting off local beach access and colluding with central government to dismantle the communal land ownership on Barbuda so that they can sell villas to global elites. Experts from the science team as Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (eLaw) reviewed Brosnan & Associates’ EIAs and concluded that they are superficial and inadequate.

Meanwhile Barbudans are excluded from having any significant input at the crucial, decision-making sessions of the conference, given the bureaucratic hurdles. Barbuda Council members are only able to access side events, not in their official capacity as local government but only if supported and sponsored by other civil society groups.

John Mussington of the Barbuda Land Rights and Resources Committee (BLRRC) said, “While this conference’s theme is “resilience”, it is taking place while the resilience of Barbudans and their communally owned island is systematically being compromised by non-sustainable, harmful developments that are replacing natural coastal and wetland ecosystems with luxury residences and golf courses. We want a SIDS agenda that will effectively prevent the hypocrisy that turns a blind eye to the destruction of biodiversity and resilient ecosystems while publicly saying the opposite.”

Tom Goreau PhD, President of the Global Coral Reef Alliance said, “This is the first SIDS conference I am not attending as there will be no venue for serious discussion of global climate change solutions. It is regrettable that UNSIDS will not address the global coral reef extinction crisis, the existential urgency of regrowing coastal ecosystems like coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses through community-managed ecosystem regeneration and sustainable mariculture, sea level rise adaptation, or the delicate ecosystems on Barbuda that are imminently threatened. Barbuda is the last large pristine island in the Caribbean, and requires the strongest protection and management as a UNESCO

World Heritage Site, not to be trashed by irresponsible mega-yacht marinas, golf courses, and sewage that have destroyed the natural resources and fisheries of all other Caribbean islands.”

YaYa Marin Coleman chairperson of the United Black Association for Development Educational Foundation (UEF), Belize who travelled to show solidarity to Barbudan land defenders said, “SIDS has been co-opted by European ways of domination of natural resources for profit by the predatory class inclusive of some of our skin folks who are not our kinfolks. It is not the only world possible. Barbudans are living examples of what it means to live communally as Afrikan Descendants racialized as Black People and are willing to collectively defend their land struggle as Barbudan Land Defenders.”

Sarah O’Malley lawyer at GLAN said, “Developers instrumental in the destruction and privatisation of Barbuda are leveraging the SIDS conference to their advantage. Meanwhile Barbudans are excluded. This serves as a potent symbol of a broader global issue where Indigenous and Tribal communities who can best protect the planet remain marginalized while capitalistic, extractivist narratives from powerful Global North actors are platformed within international fora.”

Contact Abbi Casey to request further comments or interview the representatives above.


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