Peru’s new Congress has passed a law that will for the first time make it mandatory to seek Indigenous Peoples’ consent before development projects are allowed to go ahead on their ancestral lands.
The Consultation with Indigenous Peoples Law, which was unanimously approved on Tuesday, requires government consultations with Indigenous Peoples before companies can begin projects like digging mines, drilling for oil or building dams. Indigenous Peoples must also be consulted before Congress can approve any proposed law that could affect their rights.
Leading Indigenous Peoples’ organizations were involved in negotiating the law and have fought for its passage since 2009. Although Congress approved an agreed version of the bill last year, former President Alan García vetoed it.
“This law, which respects the main consensus reached with the Indigenous Peoples’ organizations during the previous legislature, opens a welcome new chapter in the relationships between Indigenous Peoples and the Peruvian authorities,” said Susan Lee, Americas Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“We urge President Ollanta Humala’s government to put its full support behind implementing the Consultation Law, by ensuring that government agencies and policies are developed promptly and in full consultation with Indigenous Peoples to give them an opportunity to influence decisions being made.”
The law will take effect once President Humala signs it in the next two weeks.
Under the new law, agreements between Indigenous Peoples and the government will be made mandatory. In cases where agreement has not been reached, state agencies will have to take all necessary measures to ensure that the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples are guaranteed.
Peru has supported international standards, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Inter-American Court standard, that require the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples for any activity which could have a significant impact on their territories and resources.
According to international law, Indigenous Peoples include any groups that collectively identify themselves as such.
Social conflicts generated when development projects have gone ahead without the prior, informed consent of Indigenous Peoples have resulted in numerous deaths in Peru in recent years.
Ten local people and 23 police officers died in clashes when police broke up a peaceful June 2009 protest by Indigenous people in Bagua in Peru’s northern Amazon region. More than 200 were injured in the incident, but a full investigation has never been carried out into what happened and those responsible have not been brought to justice.
“Steamrolling over the rights of Indigenous Peoples and others most affected by rural development projects is not the way to economic development,” said Susan Lee.
“In Peru and across the Americas, the social conflicts exacerbated by ignoring the rights and rejecting the input of Indigenous Peoples have resulted in many preventable human rights violations. We hope this law will open a path of good faith and intercultural dialogue, and we urge other countries in the region to follow this important example.”