UK Public Meeting on Amazon Violence
Update 134. June / July 2009
Over 90 people attended a public meeting organised jointly by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Peru, the Peru Support Group (PSG) and Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD). The meeting was held at the Houses of Parliament on Monday June 22nd 2009 to give participants an opportunity to discuss the broad issues at play in the Peruvian Amazon and in particular the consequences of the Peruvian government's propagation of the 'Law of the Jungle'.
There were discussions on the violent clashes which took place on Friday June 5th in Bagua in the Peruvian Amazon that resulted in an official death toll of 33 victims, including 23 police officers and ten civilians, including indigenous protestors. The meeting heard eyewitness testimony from two Belgian volunteers, Marijke Deleu and Thomas Quirynen, whose personal experiences were reinforced by photographic documentation. The other participants included Patricia Oliart (Latin American Studies, Newcastle University), Amnesty International, Survival International, CAFOD and the PSG.
Patricia Oliart stated that President Alan García's understanding of indigenous rights as an obstacle for economic development and investment is at the root of his open disregard for legal and democratic methods to rule over the use of land and resources in the Amazon rainforest. Amnesty International reiterated that at the heart of the issue is the right of Indigenous Peoples to be consulted on any piece of legislation that affects them and their way of life. Jonathan Mazower of Survival International underlined that it is important to acknowledge that what has happened has broad and deep ramifications, not just in Peru but for Indigenous Peoples everywhere.
When Labour MP John Grogan asked Peru’s Ambassador to the UK, Ricardo Luna, what the official Peruvian government response to the events was, the Ambassador stated that he deeply regretted the deaths, was moved by the personal testimony at the meeting and did not want to minimise the incidence of violence. He emphasized that the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, during his visit to Peru in the aftermath of Bagua, stated that there was no evidence of massacres, and also that official figures on fatalities coincided with those of the Office of the Peruvian Human Rights Ombudsman. He also said that the people who were arrested were done so under the Rule of Law. He reiterated that President García had publicly apologised for mistakes and that this is a lesson which should not be repeated.
Speaking on behalf of an organisation formed by Peruvians living in the UK (Colectivo de Peruanos en el Reino Unido), Claudio Chipana said that they believe in the need for a new model of sustainable development for Peru which will promote the wellbeing of the majority of the population, unlike the model of privatisation which goes against the interests of the aboriginal population of Peru, and against the preservation of the environment.
The meeting raised a number of important issues which the PSG will continue to monitor as part of its on-going work on the role played by extractives industries operating in Peru. These include: the importance of consulting communities on decisions affecting their livelihoods; the responsibility of the international community, including the EU, particularly within the framework of free trade agreements and the global economic model, to ensure that multinational companies operating in Peru maintain good environmental and social standards, and respect universal human rights; and the outcome of investigations by the Government of Peru related to community concerns and allegations of the disproportionate use of force by police and private security firms in protests and disputes with mining and energy companies.