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Coulter: Horrific story told again in Peru

The horrific killings of Indians – some report as many as 100 – by the Peruvian government has been carried out as President Alan Garcia thunders his determination to seize the lands and resources of Indian people.

Thousands of Indian people have mobilized in organized protests that have continued since August 2008. Violence and repression against Indians and their organizations is likely continuing, but restricted access to the areas means it is almost impossible to confirm reports at this time.

The decrees are supposedly a result of the free trade agreement between the United States and Peru.




Indian people are protesting against a large number of legal decrees that would open their homelands to mining, oil and gas development, and hydroelectric dam projects – all without the consent of the indigenous owners or even consultation with them. The decrees are supposedly a result of the free trade agreement between the United States and Peru – at least in part an effort to open Indian lands to exploitation by U.S. companies and huge infrastructure projects like the planned dams.

The strength and size of the Indian protests have been extraordinary but understandable. These people are trying to stop their homelands from being taken from them, trying to stop the destruction of their environments, and trying to hold on to their ways of life and cultures.

Peru does not recognize that the Indian peoples own the lands and resources where they have lived since before colonization. The unfolding situation in Peru is the direct outcome of the government’s failure to respect the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples to their land and natural resources.

This is an ugly and familiar story: A country decides that in order to prosper, it must conquer the Indian peoples and seize their lands and resources. It is a story that has been condemned and rejected by the world community. This makes it especially shocking to see the story playing out today in Peru.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was recently championed by Peru and adopted by the United Nations, now demands that countries consult and cooperate in good faith with indigenous peoples to obtain

This is an ugly and familiar story: A country decides that in order to prosper, it must conquer the Indian peoples and seize their lands and resources.

their free, prior and informed consent to any project that even affects their lands or resources. Human rights law demands that all countries respect the ownership rights of indigenous peoples to their lands and resources. Peru has formally agreed to abide by strong legal principles respecting Indian lands and resources by ratifying the International Labour Organization Convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples.

The Indian protestors need and deserve support. The Indian Law Resource Center is sending a lawyer, and we plan to provide legal assistance to help protect indigenous peoples’ human rights. Other forms of help will surely be needed, including actions of ordinary people all over the world who can send an e-mail or make a call to demand a stop to the killing, and demand their governments take action to stop this tragedy. Let me be clear – I also condemn the reported killings of police.

The international community should call on Peru to refrain from the use of violence against indigenous peoples seeking to protect their lands and resources. Peru must instead seriously address indigenous peoples’ fundamental rights to land, natural resources and the environment before taking any action that permits extractive activities on their lands. These lands and resources must not be taken from them under any pretext.

The government of Peru must be pressured to comply with its international human rights obligations, including the protection of property rights and the right to life of indigenous peoples as required by the ILO Convention, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the UN Declaration.

Information about the unfolding crisis and what you can do to help is available on the ILRC’s Web site.


Robert T. Coulter, Potawatomi, is an attorney with more than 30 years of experience in the field of Indian and human rights law. He founded the Indian Law Resource Center to protect indigenous rights in 1978.