UN Special Rapporteur Underlines Problems with Oil Contamination in the Peruvian Amazon

From the 6th to the 13th of December, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights on indigenous people, James Anaya, paid a visit to Peru to investigate the situation facing indigenous peoples in the country-specifically regarding the issue of free, prior, and informed consent, of prior consultation, and of the impact of extractive activities on indigenous people, including those in isolation and initial contact.

During his week long visit, Mr. Anaya spent time in Lima and in various cities and smaller communities in the departments of Cusco, Puno, and in the Northeastern Peruvian Amazonian region of Loreto. On his tour, Mr. Anaya held audience with representatives from the national and regional governments, from indigenous communities in the Amazon and the Andes, from civil society, and with companies from the private sector.

In the Amazonian department of Loreto, Mr. Anaya traveled to the community of Andoas, in the province Datem de Marañón, where he met with over 150 Apus (indigenous community leaders) from the Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes and Maranón river basins. Andoas is situated in storied oil concession Lot 192 (formerly Lot 1 AB), a site of oil extraction since 1971, where Argentine firm Pluspetrol Norte has operated since 2001. During the meeting, the indigenous community members denounced the government of current president Ollanta Humala for failing to follow through on commitments made when environmental states of emergency were declared in the Pastaza and Corrientes river basins in March and September of this year. Aurelio Chino Dahua, leader of the Federation of Indigenous Quechua of the Pastaza had this to say:

“The Peruvian state has not monitored nor sanctioned the oil company for this environmental crime. Pluspetrol should have to answer for the terrible impacts and consequences they’ve caused on our territory and our lives.”

In a press conference delivered in Lima on his final day in Peru, Mr. Anaya shared reflections from his visit, in anticipation of the report he will prepare in the coming weeks for the United Nations Human Rights Council. The report will identify the necessary reforms and practices required of the Peruvian government to ensure that the state is fulfilling its international human rights obligations, particularly with respect to the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 (the Indigenous and Tribal People’s Convention) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

2,700 indigenous Achuar, Urarinas, and Quichua from 17 different native communities inhabit the area in Lot 1 AB directly impacted by Pluspetrol’s oil activity and by the legacy of contamination its predecessor Oxy (Occidental Petroleum) left behind. Perupetro, Peru’s state oil and gas company, has announced Lot 192 will be re-offered in 2015. The process won’t be as simple in 2015 as it was when Pluspetrol gained the concession in 2001. The indigenous people were awarded some amount of leverage in 2011, when Peruvian president Ollanta Humala enacted the Law of Prior Consultation, a piece of domestic legislation that grants “indigenous or native peoples” the right to be consulted prior to the implementation of development projects or “administrative or legislative” measures affecting their collective rights to their “quality of life, cultural identity or physical existence.” Now the indigenous leaders are requesting the environmental remediation of contaminated areas, the titling of their lands, and compensation for the use of their lands for oil activity as preconditions for entering the process of prior consultation for the 2015 auction of Lot 192.

In the Lima press conference on the 13th of December, Mr. Anaya, expressing his support of the indigenous leaders’ demands, said:

“The government and the company (Pluspetrol) need to make a concerted effort to guarantee environmental remediation in Lot 1-AB and not postpone it due to lack of clarity about the specific company responsibility in this context.”

Mr. Anaya, noting that the instrument of the Law of Prior consultation is an important step for the advancement of indigenous rights in Peru, also observed that the Peruvian state is still in the process of figuring out how to facilitate and implement prior consultation in methodological, logistical, and budgetary terms. He stressed the need for “an environment of mutual trust,” while acknowledging the ways that trust has been shaken by the “devastating consequences of extractive projects” in indigenous territories.

During his visit to Lot 192, Mr. Anaya accompanied the leaders of indigenous federations from the Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes and Maranón to the sites of various lagoons contaminated by oil activity. Citing the fine recently levied by OEFA (Peru’s Environmental Assessment and Oversight Agency) against Pluspetrol for the recent disappearance of Shanshococha lagoon at the hands of the oil company, Mr. Anaya warned that while national environmental regulations have improved oil related practices since Pluspetrol Norte acquired Lot 192 from Oxy in 2000, Pluspetrol continues to cause irreparable environmental damage.

“”I have personally observed the serious environmental problems that exist in the zone as a result of oil activity,” Mr. Anaya said. Touching on the environmental states of emergency declared this year, Mr. Anaya spoke of the “critical situation” in the Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes y Marañón river basins of Loreto, how contamination of water and of soil has affected the food supply and thus health of the indigenous communities located there.

Mr. Anaya concluded his speech at the Lima press conference expressing his hope that his upcoming report will prove useful for the indigenous people, the government, and the private sector companies operating in Peru.

Deborah Rivett

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