Community seeks consultation right via international system

18 June 2013

Peru’s troubled law on consultation of indigenous peoples may be tested at the international level. A community opposed to the development of a copper mine has filed for an injunction at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Cañaris community of Lambayeque, northern Peru, is concerned that the proposed Cañariaco mine will threaten their livelihoods and water sources. With the support of the university-based Instituto Internacional de Derecho y Sociedad, they filed for the injunction on 23 May. They claim the imposition of the project violates their rights as indigenous people to self-determination and prior consent. Peru ratified ILO Convention 169 on prior consultation in 1994 but has yet to implement it. The national human rights ombudsman, the Defensor del Pueblo, has backed the community’s demand for consultation.

The move has put a halt to attempts to resolve the dispute within a working group involving the community, the state and the Canadian-owned Candente Copper company. The forum had been set up by the new state body tasked with preventing conflicts, the National Office for Dialogue and Sustainability.

An official decision had been expected on which of two previous, contradictory rounds of consultation on Cañariaco was held as valid. The company claimed that the project enjoyed support, but a referendum held last September found 97 per cent of the community opposed the mine.

The ley de consulta was among President Humala’s first steps following his election in 2011, and was welcomed by civil society as signalling a new, more consensual approach to development. But its implementation has been marked by delays and the government – under pressure from a hostile business lobby – has indicated that it may not be widely applied in the Peruvian highlands.

The law was in part prompted by the deaths of 33 civilians and police officers in Bagua, Amazonas, in 2009, as authorities attempted to clear the peaceful protest for indigenous rights. On the fourth anniversary of the event in June, human rights groups called for the officers responsible to be held to account. Amnesty International also expressed concerns about the lack of evidence against some of the civilians accused and lengthy delays in resolving the cases.

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    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

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