The UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Taui-Corpuz, has sent an amicus curiae brief to Peru’s highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal (TC), regarding the emblematic case involving protection of traditional but as yet untitled lands of the Shipibo Conibo community of Santa Clara de Uchunya in Ucayali.

In May 2016, the community sued the Peruvian government to protect its traditional, untitled lands against their appropriation by a palm oil company which had converted more than 7,000 hectares into plantations. In August 2018, this case was admitted for consideration by the TC.

The case was finally heard on September 25 this year when the special rapporteur presented her report. This points to the fact that that this is an emblematic case of a problem to be found throughout the Peruvian Amazon where traditional but untitled indigenous territories are ceded by the state to other claimants, especially extractive companies such as oil and timber firms.

International agreements signed and ratified by the Peruvian state, such as ILO Convention 169, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as rulings of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples to their territories as pre-existent to the creation of the nation state. Thus the granting of titles by the state is simply formal recognition of a pre-existing right which takes precedence over other claims.

If successful, this case will strengthen the enforcement of the right of indigenous peoples to their traditional lands by a state and judicial system that often ignores in practice the obligation to respect and defend this right.