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As Peru’s president elect, Ollanta Humala, takes office today, international humanitarian organization Oxfam America urges him to support quick passage of legislation that will protect the rights of indigenous peoples affected by oil, gas and mineral development.
Persistent poverty is as abundant as natural resources in Peru, where 45 percent of the population is indigenous. Indigenous communities often receive little prior notice or meaningful consultation before their land is invaded in order to feed the world’s appetite for oil, gold and other minerals. Humala campaigned on a platform of reforming the mining sector, including imposing higher taxes on mining companies. It appears that Humala has now softened his stance on this issue. Oxfam America hopes that he will take a firm position on human rights protections.
“While the extraction of natural resources can play a role in the socioeconomic development of countries, transnational companies often move into communities with little advance notice, which contributes to violent conflicts and threatens the rights and livelihoods of local communities,” said Keith Slack, campaign manager of Oxfam’s Extractive Industries Program . “Humala has a chance to end the cycle of mining-related conflicts and poverty by supporting laws that will protect indigenous peoples’ right to participate meaningfully in decision-making on oil, gas and mining projects.”
In comparison to its neighbors such as Bolivia and Ecuador, the Peruvian government has not adopted domestic consultation laws consistent with international standards. Peru’s national congress passed a consultation law in 2010, but the executive branch effectively vetoed it. The law would’ve required extractive companies to consult with indigenous communities and obtain their prior consent before digging for oil or minerals on their land.
Mining-related conflicts are evident in several parts of the country, such as the northern region of Piura where in 2005, community members peacefully protested the Rio Blanco Copper mine, at the time owned by UK based company Monterrico Metals. Concerned that mining exploration was being carried out on community farmland without their permission, hundreds of people marched to the mine site, where Rio Blanco was exploring copper deposits, to discuss their concerns with company representatives. According to a report released by Peru’s National Human Rights Coordinator, police and mine security detained and tortured 28 protestors.
The victims subsequently filed a lawsuit against the company in the United Kingdom. Last week, the company agreed to an out of court settlement after former mine employees and others gave testimony, claiming Moterrico was complicit in the torture and mistreatment of the protestors, according to the press release issued by the claimants lawyers as well as news reports.
“The origins of most conflicts around mining in Peru can be traced to poor prior consultation. Humala has acknowledged the need to try to address this problem,” said Javier Aroca, program coordinator in Oxfam’s Lima office. “Adopting an indigenous peoples’ consultation law would help diffuse tensions and protect the rights of local communities, and would be to everyone’s benefit, including the companies.”