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Spanish version available here.

Commissioners: José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, Dinah Shelton, Rosa María Ortiz.

Petitioners: Federación Nacional Achuar del Perú (FENAP) / Grupo de Trabajo Racimos de Ungurahui (GTRU)

State: Peru

Organizations representing indigenous people in Peru presented evidence at a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on November 1, 2012, alleging violations of their rights by government grants for oil extraction on the Achuar people’s ancestral land. The Achuar live in forty-one communities around the Pastaza River in the Amazon basin in northern Peru. They are an isolated society that subsides from the Amazon rainforest. While the Achuar have inhabited the land for generations, they do not possess land titles. Because the Achuar do not have legal claim to the land, the Peruvian government has been able to grant extraction rights to oil companies.

The petitioners began with the president of Federación Nacional Achuar del Perú (FENAP), who discussed how oil extraction practices are “threats that could destroy [the Achuar people].” A representative from Grupo de Trabajo Racimos de Ungurahui (GTRU) stated that “good practices” between Peru and the Achuar must be established to protect their civil, political, cultural, and economic rights. He said that this protection comes from creating a comprehensive territory, territorial mapping, and free determination of land management.

The GTRU representative then presented his claim for how the Peruvian government violated the Achuar’s rights. He argued that the constitution’s establishment of Peru as a homogenous state precluded multiculturalism and impeded free determination. He also said that the Peruvian laws, proposals, and zoning practices granting oil extraction were approved without consultation, thus limiting free determination in violation of ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. To emphasize this, he presented maps of Achuar lands that were covered with current and future land concessions for oil extraction. He then finished by citing Peruvian Constitutional Court and IACHR findings that free determination is limited by a lack of access to land.

The petitioners jointly called on Peru to respect and support the collective rights of the Achuar people to live on ancestral lands. To accomplish this they asked Peru to recognize property rights, grant a community land title, formally recognize the Achuar, and respect their land-management decisions. Finally, the petitioners asked for reparations for environmental damages, that acceptance of IACHR recommendations, and periodic reporting to the IACHR.

The State’s response centered on Peru’s existence as a unitary government and arguments that national remedies are underway. The State’s representative argued that the Achuar’s land management is void because land management powers belong to the State, not municipal governments. He argued that self-governance is not precluded but must be done constitutionally, and that the petition incorrectly cited the Constitutional Court since that decision involved a group that had land title. The government representative further stated that domestic remedies are underway via a petition submitted to the Ministry of Justice, and a process of granting land titles. He also noted current laws are being drafted to address environmental sanctions and regulations.

The Minister of Inter-Cultural Affairs addressed the petition’s specific requests. He argued that community land titles are much broader than just for indigenous peoples, and the complexity of the issue must be “fleshed-out” with engagement of all indigenous peoples. He said that progress is being made on granting legal personhood and that the State acknowledges the Achuar’s right to self-governance. He also noted that under Peruvian law, only the State has the right to resources, not private parties, and only Congress can grant or deny extraction rights. He then argued that the Achuar want self-consultation with dialogue only between them, not consultation with the government. Finally, he commented that reparations for environmental damage are currently underway, and that oil companies can themselves be held liable for environmental damage.

Following a brief round of questions to clarify certain points regarding the environmental damage and remedies, the hearing came to an end. In closing, Commissioner Shelton, who is also the Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples, stated that the hearing was the best with which she has been involved in her time at the IACHR.