IACHR cancellation causes offense among indigenous

5 March 2017

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has reprogrammed its visit to the Peruvian Amazon to April, having abandoned its previous commitment to do so last month.

The last minute scrapping of the visit planned for February (it gave only three days warning of the change of plan) caused widespread annoyance and frustration among the peoples of Amazonas region who had been counting on the ISCHR visit to highlight the problems that have faced because of repeated leakages of crude from the Northern Peru pipeline which links the oilfields of Loreto with the coast at Talara.

The official reason for the change of plan was given as ill health of those planning to travel to Peru. However, local organisations in Amazonas and those NGOs working with them are sceptical about whether this was the real cause of the visit being aborted. They suspect that the government, subsumed in the backwash from the Odebrecht scandal, requested the postponement.

The organisations involved, including the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH), had previously written to the justice minister, María Pérez Tello, offering to coordinate the visit with her department, but received no reply. They had organised visits to the region in order to gather together testimonies to present to the IACHR.

It was the government which originally requested the IACHR visit as a way of calming the situation in Amazonas. Local groups had responded positively to the prospect of the international body visiting the region to inspect the damage caused by leakages, believing it would add to the pressures on Petroperú (which operates the pipeline) to invest in upgrading it.

The pipeline was first constructed in the 1970s and has suffered a number of leaks in recent months. A toxicological report, conducted by one of the NGOs in the region, recently reported that levels of lead and mercury in the blood, urine and hair samples of children well above internationally accepted levels.
At the end of last year, ministers from the Kuczynski government had met with indigenous leaders at Saramurillo, signing what became known as the Saramurillo accords. Although the meeting revealed deep differences between the government’s and the indigenous groups’ perceptions of the problems facing the latter, the meeting went some way to allaying indigenous concerns about the pipeline.

Among the 49 agreements reached, the government promised effective remediation of contaminated sites along the course of the pipeline during the course of this year, along with an independent inspection of the pipeline itself in the first six months. The accords hold out the possibility of a community environmental monitoring law being passed, as well as wider public debate on Peru’s energy needs with specific reference to the Amazon region.

However, those working with NGOs in the Amazon region express scepticism about the willingness of the authorities to fulfil promises, particularly once the pressure of social protest is relaxed.

For a useful account of the Saramurillo accords (with photos), the background to them and future prospects, go to:
http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/39612-saramurillo-justice-for-peru-s-amazonian-peoples?tmpl=component&print=1

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    Over the past century Peru has suffered a series of autocratic governments and a civil war in which nearly 70,000 people died. Many of the country's ongoing political and social problems are a legacy of its somewhat turbulent past. 

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