Politics of Poverty

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A new threat to Peru’s indigenous peoples’ consultation law

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United Nations visit highlights importance of continued negotiation with indigenous peoples.

Oil block #192 is Peru’s most productive geographic area, defined for the purpose of licensing for exploration, development or production oil rights. Oil block #192 has also been characterized by a history of contamination and conflict. Photo: http://bit.ly/1dyGtzL
Oil block #192 is Peru’s most productive geographic area, defined for the purpose of licensing for exploration, development or production oil rights. Oil block #192 has also been characterized by a history of contamination and conflict. Photo: http://bit.ly/1dyGtzL

Will Peru’s implementation of its indigenous peoples’ consultation law falter in its most productive oil block? Will the government achieve community agreement or consent prior to awarding a new oil license in Block 192, a geographic area with social and environmental legacy issues?

Apparently the possibility that the government will forego community consultation in Block 192 is looming. This week two of Peru’s most widely read newspapers, El Comercio[1] and Gestión[2], reported that sources inside the government have begun to talk about cancelling the oil Block 192 consultation with indigenous communities and licensing the block directly. This would violate Peru’s indigenous peoples’ consultation law and the human rights of the indigenous communities inhabiting the area, as articulated in the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, visited Peru last month and called on government to continue negotiations with indigenous communities in Block 192 in order to move on to the pending consultation process. Anaya advised the Peruvian government that their extractive industries development strategy must not violate indigenous peoples’ right to be consulted in a manner consistent with international standards. These standards recognize indigenous peoples’ right to give or withhold their Free Prior Informed Consent.

During his visit, Anaya had the chance to observe firsthand what he referred to as the “devastating consequences” of extractive industry projects on indigenous peoples’ lands. Anaya met with more than 150 leaders of indigenous communities of the Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes, and Marañón river basins in the city of Andoas in Peru’s northernmost region, Loreto. These communities’ lands overlap with Block 192 (formerly Block 1-AB), where Argentine company Pluspetrol operates.

United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, arrives in Andoas, Peru last month. Photo: Grupo Técnico de las Federaciones Indígenas http://bit.ly/1j9gAsk

Oil companies have dumped millions of barrels of production waters directly into the Tigre, Corrientes, Pastaza, and Marañon rivers in Block 192 over the last four decades. (First it was Occidental Petroleum and after 2001, it was Pluspetrol.) These production waters contain highly toxic substances, and companies disposed of the waters at very high temperatures and with elevated salinity levels.

After his visit to Block 192, UN Special Rapporteur Anaya stated:

An example of the various negative experiences … is the situation of indigenous people in the Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes, and Marañon river basins. These people, for more than four decades, have been affected by oil exploitation in Block 1-AB. I have been able to personally confirm the serious environmental problems that exist in this zone due to the oil industry. This includes the pollution of water bodies and soils used by the indigenous people in this region, which has affected their food sources and their health.

I visited communities located in the Corrientes river basin in 2005 and had the chance to interview community health promoters who reported increasing incidents of skin rashes and illnesses, which they believed to be associated with drinking and bathing in local rivers. Only years later did the Peruvian government begin requiring companies to reinject, rather than dump, these dangerous production waters.

Fast forward to March 2013. The Peruvian government declared a “state of emergency” in the northern Amazon, citing water pollution after tests revealed high levels of barium, lead, chrome, and petroleum-related compounds in the Pastaza River Basin. Later in the year, a state of emergency was also declared in the Corrientes and Tigre river basins, and the Peruvian government fined Pluspetrol around $7 million for polluting and draining the Shanshococha Lake located in Block 192.

The negotiations required by the indigenous peoples’ compensation law have been tense, with communities demanding that the government first commit to resolving legacy issues associated with the project (such as environmental remediation measures in polluted areas, land titling, and compensation for land use and violation of land rights) before initiating a new consultation. Finding these conditions “just and conducive to a productive consultation process,” Anaya encouraged all that agreed to participate in a roundtable dialogue—the government, Pluspetrol, and communities—to “take advantage of this engagement opportunity to continue to look for solutions to the problems outlined.”

Oxfam and others have provided funding for technical support to assist indigenous communities in the negotiations and will continue to provide support this year. Having a neutral party like the United Nations engaged and monitoring the process is critical, and hopefully will help to ensure that negotiations with communities advance rapidly. Anaya has promised to continue to monitor the situation in Block 192, and he will be releasing a report to the Human Rights Commission in a few months. Let’s hope that by that time he will have more positive developments to report regarding implementation of the consultation law.

[1] “Consulta en el lote 192 podría ser evitada,” El Comercio, January 13, 2014 (print edition).

[2] “Ya no habría Consulta Previa para Lote 1-AB,” Gestión, January 16, 2014 (print edition).