San Francisco, CA – The Peruvian National Congress has taken an important step by unanimously passing a law requiring consultation with indigenous peoples. The law states that indigenous peoples have a right to prior consultation around legislative and administrative measures in addition to being consulted around plans, programs, and projects that impact their collective rights, whether that be physical existence, cultural identity, quality of life, or development. Newly elected President Ollanta Humala has 15 days to sign and approve the new law.
“This is an important step in recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples in Peru which have been trampled on for centuries by the Peruvian state and especially by the last administration,” said AIDESEP, Peru’s largest indigenous Amazonian federation, in a statement in response to news of the Consultation Law passing.
While AIDESEP expressed support for the new law, the organization also expressed concern about implementation “until [the government agency] INDEPA, the National Organization for the Development of Andean, Amazonian and Afro Peruvian Peoples truly implements this new law, we will not be caught in false triumphs.”
“Time will tell if the law will be honored by government and extractive industries bent on exploiting natural resources on indigenous lands,” said Amazon Watch Executive Director Atossa Soltani, expressing hopes that passage of the law signals a historic shift in Peru’s political culture. “This is a historic advance for respect of the rights of the country’s indigenous peoples.”
“Indigenous peoples’ right of free, prior, and informed consent has been reaffirmed in recent years through the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and legal judgments of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights,” Soltani stated. “Consultation, when truly carried out in good faith, is an important element for promoting that right.”
“Peru’s indigenous movement deserves tremendous credit for their persistent advocacy,” added Soltani. “They provided constructive input into the bill’s draft text last year and then lobbied vociferously after President Garcia offered eight line-item vetoes.”
AIDESEP had issued strong public statements insisting on the law’s passage and had raised the issue within numerous international fora, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the World Bank.
The bill’s language focuses on applying consultation to legislative and administrative changes that impact indigenous peoples. The recently approved Forestry Law, which has significant implications for indigenous rights, fell short of carrying out a meaningful consultation. AIDESEP advocated for the Consultation Law to be passed first, and for the Forestry Law to be subject to a full consultation.
It remains to be seen if the Consultation Law will be embraced by and rigorously applied by private economic sectors with plans to implement specific projects within indigenous territories. These include construction of roads and dams; to mining, oil, and gas extraction projects and associated infrastructure; to implementation of climate change mitigation schemes, such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).
Properly carried out, the right to free, prior, and informed consent, obtained through a process of consultation, would have far-reaching implications for the above-mentioned sectors, amongst others. In some cases, project benefits would more effectively reach communities. In others, the project would have to change significantly, including not being carried out in places where indigenous peoples do not consent to the project. Within indigenous territories, indigenous proposals for development, as defined by them, should be given priority and necessary resources.
The regulations following from the law, which will define many of the general terms outlined in the bill, will be a further indication of the government’s intentions for the law to effect real change or simply be a tool for placating indigenous peoples.
“The regulations associated with consultation will determine its ultimate success,” Soltani added. “Those regulations, in fact, should themselves be consulted with indigenous peoples before they are finalized.”
A major outstanding issue is that of indigenous territories. In addition to advocating for passage of this law, AIDESEP has been pressing for the Peruvian government to address hundreds of outstanding land title claims. These range from recognizing currently unrecognized communities, to titling recognized but untitled communities, to expansion of existing community titles into collective territories. AIDESEP has also been lobbying for the effective protection of regions in which vulnerable uncontacted tribes are known to live.