Washington, D.C. – The Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Antonia Urrejola, together with the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, express their concern at the approval of Law No. 30723, “Law that declares the construction of highways in frontier areas and the maintenance of highways in the Department of Ucayali as a priority and national interest”. The Rapporteurs consider that its implementation would affect protected natural areas, indigenous reserves, and territorial reserves for indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact.
According to publicly available information, the aforementioned law was promulgated on January 22, 2018 despite the opposition of the Ministry of Culture, the governing body in matters of peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact in Peru, and the Ombudsman’s Office. In addition, according to information received, the law was approved without having been preceded by appropriate consultations with the affected indigenous communities, and without the specialized opinions of the competent State entities on the matter, such as Congress’ Commission on Andean Peoples, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian, Environment and Ecology; the Vice Ministry of Interculturality of the Ministry of Culture; the Vice Ministry of Human Rights and Access to Justice of the Ministry of Justice; the National Service of Protected Natural Areas; and both the Ministries of Environment and Health. Likewise, the approval of the law was carried out without taking into consideration the technical opinions of national and international human rights organizations that work with issues pertinent to indigenous peoples, such as those contained in the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ press release, and the possible irreversible consequences on the rights of indigenous communities in the region.
The IACHR and the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations call on the State of Peru to comply with its domestic legal framework to respect and guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples in the country. Law No. 29785 “Law of the Right to Prior Consultation of Indigenous or Native Peoples” requires that the right to prior consultation with indigenous communities be guaranteed regarding national and regional development projects that affect their collective rights, their physical existence, cultural identity, quality of life or development. Likewise, Law No. 28736 “Law for the protection of indigenous or native peoples in a situation of isolation and in a situation of initial contact” recognizes the intangible nature of the territorial reserves for these peoples.
“It is essential that any infrastructure construction or maintenance project that could affect indigenous communities be carried out in full compliance with the national legal framework in Peru, and the international legal framework on the rights of indigenous peoples, including adequate processes of free, prior and informed consultation,” the two experts affirm. They add that, “in the case of peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact, the international legal framework requires that their manifest rejection of the presence of third parties be taken into account as assertions of their decision to remain isolated and their non-consent to such interventions or projects, and refrain from carrying them out”.
The information received indicates that this law would endanger natural areas protected by the State, indigenous reserves, and the Kugapakori, Nahua, Nanti territorial reserve for peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact. Information received also indicated that, in addition to fragmenting the territory of indigenous reserves, the construction of highways would generate an increase in workers in the area, and facilitate mining and illegal logging in these protected areas. Likewise, these activities could lead to forced contact with peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact, factors that can generate serious problems for their safety and health, due to the lack of immunological defenses, with an irreversible impact on their ability to survive as a people, resulting in their eventual disappearance.
The IACHR and the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, together with the Regional Office of South America of the OHCHR, have been working closely together on the issue of the human rights situation of peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact. In this framework, in June 2017, a meeting of experts on the subject, including government institutions, was held in Lima, Peru. In October 2017, the IACHR held a thematic ex oficio hearing in Montevideo, Uruguay, in which it reiterated the need for States to adopt more effective actions for the protection of these indigenous groups and their lands from third parties. This obligation of protection is part of the obligations and commitments of the States of the region under the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, inter-American jurisprudence, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Convention 169 of the ILO.
The two experts urge the State of Peru to comply promptly with its special obligation to respect and protect the rights of communities in voluntary isolation and initial contact, given their particular situation of vulnerability. “The opposite could have irreparable consequences on the individual and collective rights of these communities, and could lead to their physical and cultural extermination,” said the experts.
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A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Philippines) is the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples of the United Nations. The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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