Waiting for justice

By Oxfam America
Maximoi Casancho and Irma Rodriguez Mori of San Ramon de Pangoa, Peru are still waiting for legislation that will uphold their rights. Percy Ramirez/Oxfam America

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Following the tragic events in Bagua last year—in which clashes between the police and indigenous communities resulted in deadly violence—people in Peru are exploring how to resolve conflicts between the government and communities living in rich but environmentally fragile areas of the country.

One key topic of discussion has been the right of communities to what is termed “free, prior, and informed consent.” Peru’s congress passed a bill in May 2010 requiring consultation with indigenous communities about development priorities. Five indigenous organizations worked in coalition to promote the bill, assisted by a number of allies, including Oxfam. In June, Peru’s executive branch returned the bill to congress with suggested revisions. The coalition cautions the legislature to preserve the original intent of the bill: to reduce conflicts over access to resources and indigenous lands.

Free, prior, and informed consent requires the government to allow indigenous people to participate in decisions about the type of economic development that is carried out on their lands. This right is protected by the International Labour Organisation’s Convention (known as ILO Convention 169) that Peru signed and ratified in 1993. Article 7 of ILO Convention 169 states that people have the right

to decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy and otherwise use, and to exercise control…over their own economic, social and cultural development.

Widespread conflict

There is a pressing need to reduce the number of conflicts over access to resources in Peru. The country’s Ombudsman Office issued a report in July 2010 that cited 248 conflicts—125 of which were characterized as “socio-environmental.”

Indigenous groups in Peru are concerned about the future of the consultation bill. "If there is no consultation mechanism,” explains Mario Palacios, representative of CONACAMI, a national organization of communities affected by mining, conflicts will increase.

“Many conflicts originate in indigenous peoples’ territories and the consultation [law] would help to resolve them." He says that if Peru’s congress were to adopt the revisions suggested by the executive branch, the consultation law would be ineffective.

A step backward

Human rights activist and attorney Hernán Coronado points out that this potential impasse is a threat to the dialogue that had developed over the last year between the Peruvian government and indigenous people. For Coronado, the executive branch’s suggested modifications would produce a law that falls short of international standards. In addition, the suggested revision to the bill would diminish the efficiency of the original standard. "It proposes consultation only when communities have legal titles for their lands; this causes problems since there is no such land register in many peasant and indigenous communities," he explains.

The members of the coalition working on the consultation bill are the Interethnic Association for Development of the Peruvian Amazon (AIEDESEP), Confederation of Amazonian Nationalities of Peru (CONAP), National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mining (CONACAMI), Peasant Confederation of Peru (CCP), and National Agrarian Confederation (CNA). The coalition awaits further discussion eagerly. Peru’s congress is expected to take up discussion of the consultation bill in the coming weeks.