The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) has issued a 21 November deadline for the Peruvian government to respond with proposals to protect the indigenous community of Nueva Austria del Sira in Huánuco region. On 6 November, it issued precautionary measures (Resolution 57/2019) saying that the community is at risk from land “invaders”

The story of Nueva Austria is but a far from unique example of official obstacles placed in the way of communities seeking legal title to their ancestral territory.

The IACHR is pressing the government to take urgent action in favour of fourteen Asháninka and Yanesha families occupying some 14,000 hectares for which they have sought official land title since 2004 when the Huánuco regional government first officially recognised the community.

By 2006, however, Nueva Austria had become the target of an aggressive land grab fronted by colonists to which the same regional government gave individual titles. In 2016 Huánuco authorities withdrew recognition of Nueva Austria in favour of 104 individual plots awarded to 47 highland settlers. These covered 60% of the community’s territory. The indigenous population by that time had been reduced to just 14 families from 29 previously.

This land invasion went hand-in-hand with a smokescreen of official complaints against the community, as well as threats and hostility towards individuals within it. In July this year, the community leader suffered an attempt on his life, and his brother-in-law was severely wounded.

Over this whole period, the police have taken the side of the settlers, supported their flow of complaints and, on one occasion, even participated (hooded) in a settler foray into the community.

Nueva Austria’s predicament also represents a threat to the country’s efforts at preserving the rapidly diminishing extensions of cloud forest on the eastern slopes of the Andes.

In 2001, the original inhabitants of the area came together with groups of the central forest region, including the Shipibo of the Ucayali and the Asháninka of the Pichis, in a land ordering exercise that created a buffer zone for the newly created El Sira Communal Reserve, a protected natural area.

Along with other communities bordering the Communal Reserve, Nueva Austria became a member of its administration. The SERNAMP, the national service for protecting natural areas, assumed official responsibility. El Sira protects over 600,000 hectares of forest in the regions of Loreto and Ucayali as well as in Huánuco which, in turn, protects the 1.6 million hectares of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Oxapampa-Asháninka-Yanesha, created in 2010.

However. the agriculture ministry’s regional office in Huánuco has followed up the withdrawal of the community’s recognition by announcing that the lands made free are available for the development of forestry. In other words, logging.

Not satisfied with a formulaic response from Peru, the IACHR has urged the government to take urgent and specific precautionary measures to protect the rights of the community. The text of IACHR Resolution 57/2019 can be found here.