HUMAN RIGHTS: Indigenous rights

28 September 2014

In September, the Directorate General for External Policies of the European Parliament published its second research paper on indigenous people and human rights. The latest paper highlights the disproportionate effects of extractive industries on indigenous communities worldwide. The report details the cause of many internal conflicts in Peru, stating that one half of all social conflicts occurring in the country relate to mining. To access the paper: http://www.piplinks.org/system/files/EU+report+on+extractives.pdf

The report came out just a week after four indigenous anti-logging activists were murdered in the Peruvian Amazon. Edwin Chota, a prominent Ashaninka community leader was amongst them. Local civil rights groups have firmly blamed the Peruvian government and its failure to protect the land rights of indigenous peoples. Though the law of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples was passed by Congress in 2011, evidence of any meaningful implementation still remains to be seen.

Indigenous leaders from the Cacataibo ethnic group have also denounced to members of Congress how they are harassed by illegal timber cutters who seek to expel them from their lands. Their leader, Reynaldo Mozolina, has criticised the government for its failure to provide the Cacataiba with proper land titles.
At Climate Summit 2014 held in New York, President Ollanta Humala addressed FPIC and pledged to launch the Forest Partnership with Norway and Germany, which promises to not only reduce forest related emissions in the Peruvian Amazon but also to recognise millions of hectares of indigenous peoples’ land. This agreement demonstrates a further commitment to formalise rights of indigenous communities, such as the Ashaninka, detailing commitments such as:

  • Respecting the rights and proposals of indigenous communities to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent – in relation to any operations on lands to which they hold legal, communal or customary rights, and ensure those tenure rights are respected.

  • Increasing by at least 5 million hectares of land areas titled to indigenous peoples and including at least 2 million hectares in the payment for conservation performance of indigenous communities.

Faced with strong lobbying power from extractive industries (see editorial), it remains unclear the extent to which such commitments will be honoured in practice. Extractive industries oppose any suggestion that indigenous communities have an effective veto on development on their lands.

During the first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples at the end of September, Peru’s Vice-Minister of Natural Resources and Strategic Development, Mr. Gabriel Quijandría, said that his country recognised indigenous peoples’ right to land ownership. However, he conceded that the issue was still unresolved, since only 30 per cent of indigenous people had property rights over their land. He concluded that it was very important to ensure proof of ownership in order to provide more guarantees over legal and illegal activities there. Another unresolved question is whether highland indigenous groups will have equality of rights as Amazon-based groups when it comes to negotiating extractive projects.

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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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