Eye on the Amazon

Federation of the Achuar Nationality of Peru Presents Historic Legal Claim Against the Peruvian Government

Once again, Peru's Achuar people are proving themselves to be trailblazers. This past week – with the support of ally organizations like the International Institute for Law and Society (IILS), Rainforest Foundation Norway, the Rainforest Action Network, and Amazon Watch – they filed a trio of lawsuits against the Peruvian government. After years of grassroots mobilization to successfully keep international oil companies out of their territory, they are expanding their territorial defense strategies to the courts. As our colleagues from IILS explain below, the Achuar are demanding legal recognition of their representative organization, titling of their collective territory, and cancellation of the oil blocks that overlap their lands.

The outcomes of these efforts will reverberate across the Peruvian Amazon. When the Achuar are ultimately successful, they will open the door for other Amazonian indigenous peoples to take similar legal actions. The road, however, is by no means short. The Achuar have spent years laying the groundwork for last week's initiative. Now, they have to navigate the Peruvian legal bureaucracy, which is often less-than-independent from political powers. Assuming the courts don't recognize their rights, they are prepared to take their case to international human rights tribunals. This process could take years, during which time Amazon Watch plans to stand by them. We hope the Achuar can count on you, too.

– Andrew Miller, Amazon Watch Advocacy Director

Delegation of Achuar representatives and International Institute on Law and Society (IIDS) legal team. Photo credit: Raquel Yrigoyen (IIDS/IILS)

For the first time in Peru, an indigenous people demands the recognition of their legal personhood as a first nation or people and not simply as a "community". The Achuar people of the Pastaza river basin demand recognition and legal titling to their forests and natural resources, against what Peru's legislation on forests and "native communities" says. FENAP is not only questioning the oil concessions and contracts, but also demanding that the establishment of the oil blocks be annulled.

Following various days of travel, members of the Federation of the Achuar Nationality of Peru (FENAP) leadership council, led by Peas Peas, and 11 indigenous leaders from different Achuar communities, have arrived in the city of Iquitos to present an historic legal case against the Peruvian government before the First Level Court.

Who has presented the case?

The Achuar people of the Pastaza river basin, located in the region of Loreto, between the watersheds of the Huasaga, Huitoyacu and Manchari Rivers, is the plaintiff in the case. The Achuar authorities have expressed as much in a press conference carried out within the Apostolic Vicariate of Iquitos, after having left the court.

"Our people existed before the creation of the Peruvian and Ecuadorian states. We have our own way of life, our own vision and a life plan," explained FENAP's president, Peas Peas. In effect, they are an ancestral people, the culture and language of which reflects their ancestral knowledge as a people who have learned how to coexist with mother nature in the tropical forests of the Amazon.

As explained by FENAP's Vice-president Kukush Wasum, the Achuar people is organized into three levels of governance: (1) the base community level, between 44 communities; (2) the watershed level, with three organization (ATI, ORACH, and AIM); and (3) the nationality level, with FENAP as their organism for self-governance and representation.

The Peruvian State has only recognized and offered title to some of the communities, fragmenting the ancestral territory of the Achuar people. And, additionally, "the titles offered by the State don't include our forest property. We are asking that they recognize our integral territory, with all the forests, waters, and natural resources that are our source of life," remarked Kashijint Reynaldo Saant, President of ATI.

Currently, the territory is being threatened by the incursion of oil companies, loggers, and other third parties, without respecting the ancestral rights of the Achuar people. "The State has established oil block 64 without our consent. And our brothers and sisters of other indigenous peoples are getting sick from oil pollution. We don't want that," expressed Alejo Machutak, President of ORACH.

Peas Peas Ayui, FENAP President, presenting the lawsuit. Photo credit: Carlos Trinidad (IIDS/IILS)

What is the Achuar people demanding?

In this lawsuit, the Achuar people of the Pastaza basin are legally demanding:

  1. That the Peruvian state recognize the legal personhood of the Achuar people as a "first people" or "indigenous nation", and not as a civil association or otherwise disintegrated amongst communities.
  2. That the Peruvian State recognize and title the ancestral integral territory of the people in its entirety and not fragmented into 44 individual communities, including property rights to the forests, waters and all natural resources within the territory, and not in the form of "concession for use".
  3. That the Peruvian State declare null and void oil block 64 and the oil concessions issued to GeoPark and PetroPeru within the Achuar territory, for not benefiting either from a consultation or the consent of the Achuar people and for violating their way of life and integrity.

Who is the legal case against?

The lawsuit has been issued against:

  1. The regional government of Loreto, for having negated recognition of their legal personhood and ancestral integral territory of the Achuar people, even though they have complied with all the requirements for said recognition (Statutes of the Achuar people, List of members, Population Census, Socio-Economic-Anthropological studies, geo-referenced map, etc)
  2. The Ministry of Culture for not having coordinated with the regional government to guarantee the Achuar title of territory as an indigenous people, as according to the Ministry's Organic Law and international instruments.
  3. PerúPetro, for having established the oil lots and concessions without either consultation or the consent of the Achuar people, and for denying the annulment of those administrative acts.

What is the lawsuit of the Achuar people of the Pastaza basin based on?

FENAP's lawsuit is based on the property rights of the Achuar people, as a first people; in the fundamental rights for first peoples and communities established in the Peruvian Constitution (articles 88, 89, 149, 191); and in international law such as ILO Convention 169, ratified by the Peruvian State and in effect since February 2, 1995, the UN Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the American Convention of Human Rights and the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which recognizes the territorial rights of indigenous peoples, amongst others. These norms have legal priority over national laws that don't recognize these rights.

What happens following the presentation of this law suit?

Now, the regional court of first instance needs to admit the demand and resolve it in accordance with the law. In case it is not dealt with, FENAP will appeal to the Superior Court.

If the Judicial Powers don't accept this lawsuit, FENAP will take the decision whether or not to carry the case before the Constitutional Tribunal or the Inter-American Commission if necessary, given that the Inter-American Court has supported territorial rights in other cases.

"The Achuar people has been struggling for more than 20 years for our territory. Now we have had to bring a suit against the State so that they respect our integral territory. We'll see this out to the end," explained Lucas Irar Miik, previous leader of the Achuar people.

Photo credit: Carlos Trinidad (IIDS/IILS)

Groundbreaking Case

"The Achuar case is groundbreaking, which will certainly open up the path for other indigenous peoples to also demand their legal personhood as peoples and nations, the legal titling of their ancestral integral territory and property, and the nullification of unconsulted oil lots and concessions within their territories," indicated Raquel Yrigoyen Fajardo, lawyer with the International Institute of Law and Society – IILS, the organization providing legal support to the Achuar people.

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