On August 23, 2011, Peru’s Congress unanimously approved a groundbreaking new law that requires the government to consult with indigenous communities on decisions that affect their rights and the use of their land. Oxfam America, local partner organizations, and allied groups worked to promote the passage of the law, which could potentially reduce violent conflicts in Peru and give indigenous people greater decision-making power over their natural resources and economic development.
As in many of the world’s poorest countries, Peruvian indigenous people say they are not being consulted when international companies—operating with permission from the government—extract oil, gold, and other minerals from their land. Local people rarely see economic benefits from these projects, which can threaten natural resources and disrupt indigenous people’s ability to earn a living from farming or fishing.
Disputes over natural resources have also led to hundreds of social conflicts in Peru, some of which have led to violence. “Many conflicts [over natural resources] originate in indigenous peoples’ territories, and the consultation [law] would help to resolve them," Mario Palacios, representative of Oxfam partner National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mining (CONACAMI), told Oxfam in 2010.
Peru’s national congress passed a bill in May 2010 requiring communities and the government to come to consensus before beginning new oil, gas, and mining projects, but the law was blocked by then-President Alan García. In 2011, a study supported by Oxfam and carried out by the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) found that Peru’s laws lagged behind those of its neighbors in adhering to international human rights standards.
Eduardo Nayamp, the first native Awajún elected to the Peruvian Congress, said indigenous peoples received the news of the law’s passage with joy. "We are celebrating … a law that we hope will generate a dialogue between indigenous peoples and the state,” he told a local radio station.
A coalition of indigenous organizations joined forces to work for the passage of the law, including Oxfam America partner organizations CONACAMI, the Interethnic Association for Development of the Peruvian Amazon (AIEDESEP), the Confederation of Amazonian Nationalities of Peru (CONAP), the Peasant Confederation of Peru (CCP), and the National Agrarian Confederation (CNA).
Frank Boeren, head of Oxfam in Peru, said the law marks an important milestone for the rights of indigenous peoples, but the job is not finished: "There is still much to be done from a legal, political, and social standpoint: working with populations who have historically lived on the margins of the decisions that directly affect them." In a country where inequalities run deep, the big challenge now is to find consensus, enforce the law, and build mechanisms to make sure indigenous groups continue to have a voice.
Read an Oxfam policy analyst's take.