Eye on the Amazon

Victory for Indigenous Self-Determination and Collective Territory in Peru!

GeoPark's Days in Achuar Territory Are Numbered

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

In the biblical parable, David felled Goliath using a lone sling and rock. To defeat real-world corporate Goliaths, modern-day grassroots Davids need to deploy a slew of different (nonviolent) slingshots in concert.

The Achuar Indigenous people of Peru's northern Amazon are a case in point. For two decades oil companies have attempted to drill in their rainforest, and the Achuar have sent them packing. Some of the slingshots they have used against oil-stained Goliaths include:

  • Multiple community decisions to protect their environment and reject oil companies;
  • Local-level mobilizations and protests against the companies;
  • Indigenous-to-Indigenous relationship strengthening;
  • Getting their message out through local, national, and international media outlets; and
  • Confronting corporate CEOs, board members, and shareholders at their annual meetings.

Now, as Chilean oil company GeoPark attempts to drill in Block 64 where Talisman, Oxy, and ARCO all failed, the Achuar are bringing out a new legal slingshot. Advised by Peruvian human rights lawyers with the International Institute on Law and Society, they are pursuing justice for what constitute flagrant violations of international Indigenous rights law.

On Thursday we received news that a court in the city of Iquitos has ruled in their favor on several demands! As outlined in the Achuar statement below, the judge ordered the relevant authorities to start titling the Achuar collective territory. This is a huge step for Indigenous territorial rights in the Peruvian Amazon, since the current law only allows for community-by-community titles, which leaves out vast spaces of the rainforest that Indigenous peoples have traditionally used in many ways.

The Achuar victory on this point sets a precedent for other Indigenous peoples throughout Peru and could ultimately contribute to the titling of millions of acres, as Indigenous peoples have been insisting for decades.

Beyond titling for their ancestral territory, the Achuar are demanding that oil concession known as Block 64 – the majority of which is overlapped by their territory – be annulled for lack of consultation when it was established. The judge designated that demand as an inadmissible claim, but the Achuar appealed and that issue is now before the Superior Court of Iquitos for further consideration.

We expect yesterday's ruling will be challenged by the Peruvian government, which has dispatched lawyers from almost a dozen ministries and entities to fight the Achuar case. This process will not be resolved in the short term. But the Achuar have been demanding recognition of their collective territory since at least 2003, when it was included as the first demand in their Life Plan.

The latest oil company to try to extract oil from Achuar territory, GeoPark, must understand that the Achuar are firm in their resistance against extractive industries and they are patient. With their determination, adept legal support, and perhaps some luck, Block 64 might well be annulled. Meanwhile, the Achuar will deploy any number of other strategies to frustrate GeoPark's attempt to carry out oil activities. Does GeoPark really want to invest hundreds of millions of dollars, only to be inevitably defeated by the Achuar?

Statement of the Achuar People of the Pastaza River as Represented by the Federation of the Achuar Nationality of Peru (FENAP)

San Lorenzo – December 21st, 2017

We Welcome the Judiciary's Sentence In Favor of Our Demand for a Collective Land Title as an Original People

The Achuar People of the Pastaza River, represented by the Federation of the Achuar Nationality of Peru (FENAP) which is made up by three organizations in different river basins (ATI, ORACH, and AIM) and including 45 communities, with a territory of approximately 759,805.97 hectares, located between the watersheds of the Huasaga, Huitoyacu, Manchari and Morona rivers, in the districts of Pastaza, Andoas, and Morona within the province of Datem de Marañon, district of Loreto; pronounces in response to the first round sentence of the Second Civil Court of Iquitos, in the legal injunction case No. 394-2015-0-1903-JR-CI-02 as published today:

  1. Following a long struggle of resistance, in defense of our way of life and the integrity of our forests and waters, and having exhausted administrative measures, in 2015 we decided to initiate the difficult path of strategic litigation before national and international legal bodies, in order to demand the respect of our rights.
  2. We welcome that the court has ruled in favor of international legal standards as it supports our right to "legal title to the property of collective territory", which is a historic demand of all Indigenous people and as such we believe this sentence doesn't just benefit our Indigenous people but all first peoples of Peru.
    Resolution No 5: "As regarding the titling of the collective territory and the physical, legal, and territorial clearage for the Achuar People, I order that the sued entities and others involved in the current process, according to their competencies and faculties and in full coordination, proceed in the titling of the territory of the Achuar People as constituted under the Federation of the Achuar Nationality." (emphasis ours)
  3. Regarding our demand for recognition of “legal personality as a people”, we welcome that the judge has made to prevail the recognition as offered, in this sense, by the Regional Order No. 014-2017-GRL-CR of the Regional Government of Loreto from December 4th, 2017, based on international standards.
  4. Regarding our demand for the nullification of the oil concessions established within our territories without any prior consultation, our people will continue coming forward until we are heard and our rights prevail.
  5. On the occasion of this historic legal ruling, our people makes a call out to all Indigenous peoples, civil society, the State, churches and the international community to be vigilant and to be in solidarity with our struggle for the defense and demandability of our rights.

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