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Oxfam America applauds Peruvian Congress action to uphold rights of indigenous people

By Oxfam

WASHINGTON, DC — Oxfam America applauds critical action by the Peruvian Congress to uphold the right of indigenous people to decide how development projects impact their lands and livelihoods. The Congress held a meeting with indigenous leaders and decided to revoke two legislative decrees that threatened the protection of community ownership of lands in Peru.

Legislative Decrees 1015 and 1073 were enacted by Peruvian President Alan Garcia as part of a package of reforms created for the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Peru. The two decrees, designed to encourage international investment in mining, oil, and other industries, violated the rights of indigenous communities that are guaranteed by existing national law. The decrees endanger their land ownership, restrict their right to consultation, and exceed the limits of the responsibilities that had been delegated to the government. The Congress recognized these abuses and overturned the decrees.

?The Peruvian Congress made a crucial move to protect the rights of indigenous communities,? said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. ?Communities were not consulted during the formulation of these decrees, even though the legislation would directly affect their land ownership and jeopardize their quality of life.?

The Peruvian Congress found the decrees in violation of indigenous rights, which are guaranteed by existing Peruvian law. The decrees would have reduced the number of votes needed to authorize the sale of land and would have limited access to lands that indigenous people could claim as their own.

This decision followed a series of demonstrations by indigenous organizations opposing the decrees and protesting the absence of adequate prior consultation with affected communities. Among the leading opposition organizations was the Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Amazon (Aidesep). Oxfam works with Aidesep on intercultural education programs and development programs that aim to strengthen capacity, awareness, and knowledge of rights. Oxfam did not support or play a role in the demonstrations.

?Oxfam believes that peaceful dialogue between citizens and leaders is the most effective tool for resolving conflict and ensuring that all actors are heard equally,? said Offenheiser. ?By declaring the proposed legislation unconstitutional, the Peruvian Congress recognized the validity and necessity of the people?s right to be heard.?

The Peruvian Congress took a step forward to prevent resource depletion in the Amazon region and uphold indigenous land rights, but there is still much work to be done. President Garcia must ratify the decision to revoke decrees 1015 and 1073, and he has yet to do so. These decrees are part of a package of 99 reforms that the government enacted as part of the legislative power it was given to implement the Free Trade Agreement. More than half of these reforms have been found unconstitutional by a study commissioned by Oxfam International. For example, Legislative Decree 1064 eliminates the need for an agreement between landowners and mining and oil companies and contradicts existing Peruvian law.

The Peruvian Congress, which criticized the administration for not consulting with the indigenous community prior to enacting the decrees, has agreed to set up a series of meetings with indigenous representatives with the goal of finding alternatives to these decrees that are acceptable to indigenous peoples.

?Indigenous communities of Peru have unique ties to their lands, which are central to their identity, culture, and quality of life,? said Offenheiser. ?The right to decide how their lands are developed is critical to their ability to protect their traditions and maintain their livelihoods.?

Oxfam America has been working on development activities in Peru for more than 20 years, supporting the groups that have the least access to economic resources in the country. During this time, Oxfam has supported—in Peru and around the world—indigenous communities in the areas of bilingual education, productive projects, sustainable natural resource management, collective rights, and the preparation of local development plans.

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