Peru’s ability to consult Indigenous Peoples about laws and development projects affecting them is still “incipient,” although the country has made progress since protests over natural resource use left more than 30 people dead in 2009, according to a United Nations official.
“Throughout the years, Indigenous Peoples in Peru have suffered the devastating consequences of extractive projects in their territories, a history that has resulted in a deterioration in relations between Indigenous Peoples and the state,” James Anaya, U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, said at a press conference in Lima on December 13, at the end of a week-long visit that included stops in the Andean highlands and Amazonian lowlands.
One of the key advances Peru has made since the deadly 2009 protests in Bagua was the passage of a law in 2011 requiring that indigenous communities be consulted about legislation or development projects that could affect their collective rights.
Anaya said that was an important step, but added, “The government is still in the process of building its capacity to implement prior consultation in terms of methodology, logistics and budget.”
All projects, including those already under way, should be subject to consultation if they affect Indigenous Peoples, Anaya told Indian Country Today Media Network. At the press conference, he said that indigenous people in Andean communities told him the government did not consult them about mining projects that could affect them, although the Ministry of Energy and Mines said it had been carrying out consultations.
“I will continue to examine these divergent positions,” Anaya said.
During his visit, Anaya met with leaders of communities affected by oil drilling in an oil lease operated by the Argentinean company Pluspetrol in the northern Peruvian Amazon.
Peruvian environmental authorities have declared a state of emergency in the Corrientes and Pastaza river basins because of oil pollution, and on November 22, Pluspetrol was fined more than $7 million for pollution and “irreparable ecosystem loss” in Lake Shanshacocha.
The company has argued that much of the pollution in block 192, formerly known as block 1AB, dates to before 1999, when it took over the lease from Occidental Petroleum.
Anaya said pollution of water and soil has affected the health and food supplies of indigenous communities, creating “a critical situation that must be addressed with the urgency it deserves.” He urged Pluspetrol and the government to step up remediation efforts “without delaying over a lack of clarity” about which company was responsible for the pollution.
The block 192 lease is due for renewal in 2015. Under Peru’s prior consultation law, communities must be consulted about the new operations. Leaders of indigenous organizations in the area have refused to participate in a consultation until the pollution is cleaned up and communities receive land title, payments for damages that have occurred over the past four decades, basic government services and compensation for the use of their lands.
“I agree that these conditions are fair and would lead to a productive process of consultation about a possible new petroleum concession in the area,” Anaya said in his statement.
Anaya also visited Pluspetrol’s Camisea gas project in the southern Peruvian Amazon, where he said environmental practices have been good, but plans for expansion into a reserve for indigenous people in isolation or initial contact with the outside world raise concerns.
The proposal has led to several controversial reports from Peru’s Culture Ministry about possible impacts on indigenous people. Anaya called for the government to carry out “an exhaustive study” of isolated people in the area, as well as a consultation involving communities that are considered to be in “initial contact” with the rest of Peruvian society, “taking into account their particular characteristics and vulnerability.”
Anaya visited one of those places, the Nahua community of Santa Rosa de Serjali, where he said community members “emphasized their desire to participate in all decisions that could affect them and to speak for themselves.”
Community members complained about the lack of basic government services such as health care, education and safe drinking water, he said.
Anaya called for the government to modify regulations governing activities in the reserve, if necessary, to provide services to communities in initial contact and consult them about expansion of the Camisea gas field.
“During my visit, indigenous leaders repeatedly told me that they do not oppose development,” Anaya said at the press conference, “but that development must be consistent with their rights, including their rights to their lands, natural resources, and their own aspirations and priorities for development.”