Amazon Natives of the Achuar tribe together with Amazon Watch and EarthRights International have managed a significant victory in their long battle to get oil companies such as California’s Occidental Petroleum to both better care for the Amazon rainforest and compensate Natives for pollution.
In May 2007, with the support of activists they sued Occidental Petroleum in Los Angeles accusing them of deadly pollution. The Ninth Circuit Court decided Dec. 6 that it would judge over the matter, reversing a previous U.S. decision from April 2008 that it was up to Peruvian courts to rule on the matter.
The Achuar tribe numbers some 4,500 individuals that live at subsistence level in central-northern Peru and rely on fishing and hunting. Starting in the 1960s they began to see oil production and pollution in their area and its consequences.
“This is a major victory for the rights of indigenous peoples,” said Marco Simons, legal director of EarthRights International, who argued the appeal before the Ninth Circuit. “Oxy will now face justice in the U.S. federal courts, rather than in a Peruvian legal system that has never compensated indigenous groups for environmental contamination.”
Occidental, which operated in Peru for years until it sold its rights over concession areas known as Block 8 and Block 1-AB in the central Amazon to Argentina’s Pluspetrol a decade ago, said that it never polluted the area and that by contract Pluspetrol has to answer for any pollution.
“We have empathy for the continuing issues the Achuar people have raised with Pluspetrol and the Peruvian government, but to our knowledge there are no credible data indicating negative community health impacts resulting from Oxy’s operations,” the company said in statements provided by a representative.
Pluspetrol assumed responsibility for past, current and future liabilities, Occidental added.
A Pluspetrol spokeswoman did not reply to a request for comment Dec. 8, which was a holiday in Peru. “Occidental believes that the U.S. courts are not the appropriate forum to litigate these Peruvian claims, and will continue to advocate that position. When Oxy operated in Peru, it met applicable government requirements and industry standards,” the company stressed.
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