Peru defies UN breakthrough on uncontacted tribes

Peru’s government is ignoring new UN guidelines on the protection of isolated indigenous peoples in the Amazon, Survival International charged last week. The landmark February report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Norms for Protection of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation and Initial Contact of the Amazon Region, Gran Chaco and Oriental Region of Paraguay” (PDF, in Spanish), makes clear that the lands of isolated tribes should be untouchable, and that “no rights should be granted that involve the use of natural resources.” However, Peru is allowing the country’s largest gas project to expand further into indigenous territories known to house numerous uncontacted Indians. The expansion plan adds to existing controversies around Argentine gas giant Pluspetrol and its notorious Camisea project in southeast Peru.

Past oil and gas exploration in Peru has resulted in violent and disastrous contact with isolated indigenous groups. In the early 1980s, Shell workers opened up paths into the lands of the isolated Nahua people. Diseases soon wiped out half the tribe. One surviving Nahua who lives close to Camisea’s developments told a Survival researcher, “The company should not be here. All the time we hear helicopters. Our animals have left, there are no fish. For this, I don’t want the company. No! No company.”

Camisea’s pipeline is cutting its way through indigenous land in southeast Peru. The Camisea consortium includes US-based Hunt Oil and Spain’s Repsol. Both have been accused of violating tribal peoples’ rights.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said, “The UN’s breakthrough report at last recognises the rights of uncontacted Indians. Peru needs to read it and respect those who wish to be left alone before entire tribes are lost forever.” (Survival International, April 4)

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