Peru: President García refuses to sign indigenous rights law
President Alan García refused to sign an historic new law that would recognize Peru's international obligation to consult with indigenous peoples before proceeding with resource extraction projects that affect them. Despite broad appeal from the International Labor Organization of the United Nations, human rights groups and indigenous organizations, Garcia sent back the law to Congress with his objections just before the deadline late on June 21.
"President García has missed a huge opportunity to show Peruvians and the world that his government is willing to respect indigenous peoples rights and willing to bring Peru closer in line with international norms," commented Atossa Soltani, executive director of Amazon Watch. "García has taken another step backwards in repairing relations with indigenous peoples and demonstrated yet again his administration's deeply troubling policies towards the country's original inhabitants."
The consultation law, which was approved by the Peruvian Congress on May 19, would require that affected indigenous peoples be consulted in advance of any legislative or administrative measure, development or industrial project, plan or program that directly affects their collective rights.
García objects to the idea that indigenous people can disagree with the government and proposes that the law should be modified to allow the government to override the result of any consultation process. In his letter to the Peruvian Congress he also says that national and regional development projects should be excluded from consultation for fear of holding up infrastructure development and that the law should not apply to "la comunidad Andina"—the indigenous peoples of the Andes. To justify his refusal to honor Peru's international obligations and the result of months of hard work and dialogue, García invokes baseless fears arguing that meaningful prior consultation with indigenous peoples would delay or prevent the economic development of the country.
Alberto Pizango, the President of AIDESEP, the country's national indigenous organization commented that "the consultation law would be a positive step forward though it is still insufficient in protecting our peoples' rights." He further stated that indigenous peoples are not opposed to development but rather object to the "current model of development that destroys the rainforest for profit of a few individuals and companies. We seek development in harmony with the environment."
The law would have brought Peru closer to long overdue compliance with its international legal obligations. In 1994 Peru ratified International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples which establishes the right of indigenous peoples to be consulted on matters affecting their territories and way of life. In February 2010, the ILO recommended that the Peruvian government "suspend the exploration and exploitation of natural resources which are affecting [indigenous peoples]" until the government has developed consultation and participation mechanisms in compliance with ILO 169. In a meeting just last week the ILO reaffirmed its concerns over the Peruvian government's failure to implement ILO 169 and urged Garcia to sign the consultation law as an important measure to come into compliance with the treaty.
Last year thousands of indigenous people across the Amazon protested new laws aimed at "development" of the Amazon, which were passed without consultation. The protests came to a tragic end when a police clampdown in Bagua left 34 dead and over 200 injured. As part of the reconciliation process the government committed to developing a consultation law in consensus with indigenous and civil society groups. However the García government continues to ignore indigenous rights and undermine the reconciliation process. The oil and gas leasing arm of the Peruvian government has opened dozens more new oil and gas concessions on indigenous lands without meaningful consultation, and President Garcia last week signed an agreement with Brazil to build six mega-dams in the Peruvian Amazon, many of which will flood indigenous lands in order to sell electricity to Brazil.
"This law represented a critical opportunity for the Peruvian government to demonstrate that it is serious about resolving the kind of social conflict that led to the tragedy in Bagua last summer," stated Gregor MacLennan, Peru Program Coordinator for Amazon Watch. "Now that President Garcia has refused to bring Peru into compliance with the UN Convention, it is up to the legislature to ensure that Peru respects indigenous rights. It has already been sixteen years since Peru ratified ILO 169—how much longer do indigenous peoples need to wait?"
Under the Peruvian constitution, the legislature has the power to enact laws that the president refuses to sign and can override his objections by majority vote. Indigenous and human rights groups are urging Congress to act quickly to make this law official so that it can be implemented without delay and in full consultation with the country's indigenous peoples, as a much needed sign of Peru's commitment to respecting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of indigenous peoples.
From Amazon Watch, June 23