In September 2014, Peru and Norway signed an agreement to reduce deforestation in Peru. When the US$300 million agreement was signed, AIDESEP and Rainforest Foundation Norway warned that Peru needed to improve its policy on Indigenous Peoples.
In his speech at the signing of the agreement in New York, President Ollanta Humala talked about Indigenous Peoples rights and made clear the importance of Indigenous Peoples to protecting the forests:
We also recognize that Amazon indigenous peoples have been traditionally the best guardians of the forest, and they still are, so by committing to a low-carbon development we are paying tribute to their endeavors and sacrifices.
The agreement between Peru and Norway includes several mentions of the importance of indigenous peoples’ rights to protecting forests:
Under the headline “General approach and principles”, the Peru and Norway Letter of Intent includes the intention to:
Give all relevant stakeholders, including local communities, indigenous peoples, civil society, and women, the opportunity of full and effective participation in REDD+ planning and implementation.
Respect the rights and proposals (as REDD Indígena Amazónico) of indigenous, forest dependent and local communities to give or withhold their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to operations on lands to which they hold legal, communal or customary rights, and ensure that those tenure rights are respected.
Phase II of the agreement, which is due to run from January 2015 to the end of 2017, includes the following result:
Increase by at least 5 million hectares the regularization of indigenous lands, specifically native communities (sum of demarcation plus issuing of land right/title) (2017)
So it is perhaps surprising to read a recent interview with President Humala in Andina. In response to a question about the commitments that Peru would make “to strengthen the right of indigenous peoples to their lands and also protect the Peruvian Amazon”, Humala said that,
I think it important to reflect on the native communities in the sense that they deserve a chance of development. I disagree with labelling them as the best guardians of the forests because the state must employ forest guards and there is the SERFOR [National Forest Service], etc.
Humala thus directly contradicted what he said when he signed the agreement with Norway.
In the interview Humala also mentioned the expansion of the Camisea gas project into an indigenous people’s reserve. Humala suggests revising the concept of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, because, he said, it is “condemning vulnerable populations to remain poor”.
In January 2014, Forest Peoples Programme released a report documenting the impacts of the Camisea gas project on isolated indigenous peoples.
Unfortunately, Humala appears oblivious to these impacts.
Surely Humala’s attitude to the rights of indigenous peoples is not something that the Norwegian government can ignore?
For too many indigenous peoples in Peru this is a matter of life and death. Global Witness reports that since 2002, 57 environmental activists have been murdered in Peru, most of them indigenous. The rate is increasing, with 60% of the deaths in the last four years.
In September 2014, four Ashéninka leaders – Edwin Chota Valera, Leoncio Quincima Meléndez, Jorge Ríos Pérez and Francisco Pinedo – were murdered. Global Witness points out that these murders are symptomatic of wider governance issues in Peru’s forests:
the government’s failure to recognise indigenous claims to their traditional lands, an issue Chota and other indigenous leaders campaigned on for more than a decade; poor law enforcement and pervasive corruption that is allowing illegal logging to thrive in the Peruvian Amazon; and the gaps in institutional capacity and resources to adequately address these problems.
Only one percent of the people responsible for the murders have been brought to justice. Worse yet, state employees are behind a large number of the crimes, with 78 percent of the suspects being the police or police acting in conjunction with armed forces or company security forces.
This short film, “Our Fight“, by Handcrafted Films includes interviews with the widows and friedns of the four Ashéninka leaders who were murdered in September and documents their ongoing struggle for land titling: