Peru: The fight for survivals by indigenous peoples against onslaught of the oil companies

The 20-day ultimatum given by indigenous people to the Government of Peru on 25th August to hold prior consultation or block the government from accessing their territories with the aim to halt oil production companies indicates the increasing conflicts between the state and indigenous peoples. It also once again brings to surface as to how the laws pertaining to indigenous peoples are not respected, ignored and bypassed for socalled economic interest.

In Peru, the government refused to re-start the consultation process that failed in 2015 after indigenous peoples from the four Amazon River basins strongly objected and threaten against operationalizing the oil companies in their areas, if the 2011 Constitution law on free, prior and informed consent is not followed. The 2011 Consultation laws requires the free, prior, and informed consent of the indigenous peoples before implementing any project in their lands. According to the indigenous peoples, the consultation process is not a veto against the project but seeking guarantees against oils spills and its implications on the environment such as pollution of water, ill health, etc.

The 1989 International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No.169 relating to the rights of indigenous peoples ratified by Peru and the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) recognise the rights of the indigenous peoples to self-determination, to their lands and resources, and to consultation for their free and informed consent. The ‘ultimatum’ given by indigenous peoples shows that Peru has been violating its obligations.

In the ninth World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Bali in 2013, indigenous peoples raised their concerns and voiced against the exploitation of their land, forest, water, and the natural resources. They also expressed about how their oppression and exploitations are institutionalised since the beginning of colonialisation to the present day neo-liberalism. To the indigenous peoples, displacing them from their land and natural habitation also means removing them from their life-world consists of history, memory and representation. Hence, for indigenous peoples the protection and safeguarding the environment is equally important and part of their rights that enshrined by the international laws.

In Peru, indigenous peoples are fighting against the exploitation of the Amazonian forests which is often described as “the lungs of the planet” for its ability to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, and mitigating climate change. However, due to illegal gold mining in Santiago River of Peru, oil leaks and spills by the North Peruvian Pipeline that connect Tigre region in the north-eastern Peru to the coast, every piece of the soil and vegetation have been affected. In the 2016 itself, the tributaries of Morona River of 30 km and the communities living there were badly affected by oil spill and the cleaning up operation is still ongoing. If the rights and concerns of the indigenous peoples are not addressed, the environment in Peru will be equally affected as series of dams on the upper Marañón River are on the pipeline.

In Peru, indigenous peoples had to pay heavy price to defend their land and rights from the extractive industries. In 2010 in the Bagua city, the clashes between the indigenous people and the police forces led to deaths of at least 34 people. Further, both the State and companies often deploy criminal gangs against the indigenous people to kill them and other human and environmental activists. In one of such cases, recently in Peru, six farmers were brutally killed by the criminal gangs.

More than 120 environmental and land rights defenders were killed around the world in the year 2017 and this speaks itself about the rising protests and resistance, conflicts and violations of the rights of the indigenous peoples by the extractive industries.

The movement by indigenous peoples of Peru appears to be another milestone to save the environment and the rights of the indigenous peoples.

Shyamal Bikash Chakma

Shyamal Bikash Chakma is Consulting Editor of The aPolitical and a PhD candidate in Development Studies at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London and recipient of the Felix Scholarship 2017.
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